When I was pad shopping in the fall of 2014 I read a few research articles and I decided that wool was the way to go. Note, it's pretty tough to find research that isn't presented by a manufacturer of pads, but I do recall reading one University study that pointed towards wool. Honestly I can't remember all the reasons why, though wool didn't appear to hold as much heat, and being a natural product seemed the right choice. Formerly I had used a felt/neoprene pad (a cheapie from Rod's) for years with Junior, and I had been using a well-used second-hand Impact Gel pad with Kevin.
My equine chiropractor recommended Diamond Wool as they are very economically priced and are high quality. Sometimes I don't mind buying things online without seeing them first, but I wanted to feel the pad so it needed to be a local purchase. Rod's didn't have a great selection of Diamond Wool pads, but I found a Mayatex pad there that I liked well enough. I was riding Kevin at the time so I knew I didn't want a black pad.
I admit it's dirty, but I've been using it for almost 2 years, and well, yours probably looks like this, too, right? I always like knowing how things hold up to use, so I'm showing you my dirty laundry, so to speak.
My most-used show blanket is one I purchased around the same time as the pad, but I got this one down at QH Congress.... yet also from Rod's. Rod's store at Congress is actually BIGGER than their Columbus location! I have a friend who makes chaps and for $20 she added chap-leather wear leathers to the blanket to make it look nice longer. This is the blanket you've seen in oh ALL my show photos for two years.
I also have a solid black show blanket and a multi-pink blanket (both Mayatex). I'll use the pink one at my September show because it's a cancer fundraiser show and we are all encouraged to wear pink. I haven't used the black since I had Junior, but it might make an appearance if I decide to do a freestyle reining class at the next show.... don't hold your breath.
My friend/BO Brenda has a lovely 5-Star pad with fancy wear-leathers. It is a much higher quality wool than the Mayatex, but it is also a much higher price. She sometimes shows at our ranch shows in just the pad, and sometimes adds a blanket like I do. She picked it up at Congress last fall, but I can't remember which vendor. 5-Star pads have come highly recommended to me by several people and I can see why, they just aren't in my budget at the moment.
If I had a few hundred extra dollars to spend (lol) I would add a custom Mayatex blanket/pad to my collection. You can go online and pick your weave and colors and actually see a preview of your blanket. You can purchase just the blanket, or have it made into a blanket/pad combo. I think I would like to have a blanket/pad combo for things like clinics, or when I want to look a little nicer without having to deal with the blanket and pad separately. I would get all neutral colors to match Huck's coat, so no matter what I was wearing it would look good. I've also played around with adding some teal or turquoise in, you know, if I had another few hundred extra dollars to spend.
Lastly, I'd add a fleece-bottom pad to my arsenal. When I had Huck body-clipped in the spring, I had some issues with skin sensitivity. I kludged it with a western baby-pad because I didn't think I could find a fleece pad with the combination of affordability and support I wanted. Budgets are real.
What's your favorite pad?