Treeless saddles have become popular in the past 10 years or so, and they have also come a long way in how they’re made.Also with popularity comes more choices. However, just as treed saddles, each saddle fits differently and must be tested on your horse to ensure proper fit. Just because there is no rigid tree does not mean that the saddle is right for every horse and rider combination. Keep in mind that the purpose of a saddle tree is to distribute the weight of the rider over a greater surface area and protect the spine. Some treeless saddles are more like a glorified bareback pad and offer no weight distribution, others have more support built in.
The treeless movement was born out of frustration with the issues of saddle fit that can accompany rigid tree saddles.
To fit a treeless saddle, the first thing that should be checked is the wither and spine clearance with a rider in the saddle. Be sure that you can get at least one finger between the pommel and the horse. Damage can be caused to the horse if the saddle is resting on the withers. To begin checking spine clearance, tie a knot in the end of a 3-4 ft long piece of thick string. Place the string, with the knot at the front of the saddle, in the gullet of the saddle. Saddle the horse and be sure that you can see the knot under the pommel and the other end of the string under the cantle. With a rider on the horse, pull the string through from front to back. If the string is easy to pull and the horse does not react negatively, the spine clearance is adequate. If the string meets mild resistance, try a padding change. If the string will not pull through, another saddle design may be a better option.
Pad selection is one of the most important aspects of properly using a treeless saddle. The pad must aid in weight distribution, protect the back and aid clearance of the spine. Some treeless saddle makers also have pads designed for their saddles. The pad usually consists of dense padding over the ribs with a center seam that has no padding and creates 2 separate halves.With treeless saddles, you should use a shock absorbing pad with foam or felt inserts!
After a good workout ride the sweat pattern should be wet all over or wet with the area over the spine being dry from air flow.
If the saddle extends outside of the weight-bearing area of the back, you must ensure that the rider’s weight does not transfer to these areas or interfere when riding. Saddle and ride your horse. While at a standstill, check to see if you can place your hand under the front of the saddle and pad to feel the back of your horse’s shoulder blade. Repeat this under the back edge of the saddle. The pressure you feel should be no more than a firm handshake. Repeat this test at a walk and then at a trot. If there is high pressure in these areas, the saddle may be too long or narrow for your horse. In some cases, the seat may be too small for the rider.
Next, check to see if the pommel and cantle inserts fit the horse to prevent pinching and rubbing. Removed these rigid inserts and place them where they would sit on the horse while saddled. The pommel should match the angle of the horse’s body. You should also check for tightness under the pommel and cantle with a rider in the saddle. There should be no pressure under the rigid elements.
Treeless saddles are not appropriate for certain disciplines such as jumping, roping, eventing, or any other activity that requires the use of a horn for support or the saddle to take strain off the horse.
Please remember to refit your horse after any dramatic weight or muscle loss/gain. Also, never assume that 2 horses can wear the same saddle. If you are in doubt, have a veterinarian or skilled saddle fitter check your saddle fit! Dr. Debra is available to evaluate saddle fit manually but she can also use thermography which will help prevent swelling, pain, lameness, and many other problems due to improper saddle fit.