To Tree or Not to Tree? – That is the Question.

There are so many saddles in this world, where does one begin? Saddle trees were traditionally made of wood, which is why it’s called a tree. Today, treed saddles are made out of various materials. Saddle trees can be made with wood reinforced with spring steel, wood combined with other metals or rawhide, fiberglass, synthetic polyethylene, and even plastic. Treeless saddles are often made with foam, felt and a combination of both or other materials to create panels for spine protection and a stiff pommel for wither protection. We want to get you into a saddle that works best for you and your horse, whether it’s treed or treeless.

Happy horse and rider, Nick Weber and his horse, Sensei, in a western treed saddle.
Happy horse and rider, Nick Weber and his horse, Sensei, in a western treed saddle.

Action Rider Tack has been selling a variety of treed and treeless saddles for years, and through our experience with success and failures we have developed certain guidelines to determine whether a treeless saddle might be good for you.

First, let us state clearly that treeless saddles are not for everyone. However, when they do work it can be a great experience.

Here are a few reasons why a treeless saddle might be a good choice for you and your horse:

 

  • You have a low withered, wide horse, or other challenging conformation issues, and every treed saddle you have tried digs into your horse’s shoulder.
  • You have a gaited horse or big striding horse that is restricted by the tree of a treed saddle.
  • You love to ride bareback and the close contact it provides, but want more security that a saddle can provide.
  • You are a competent rider and feel a treed saddle is too bulky under you.
  • You love the idea of being in closer contact with your horse and are willing to take the time to make the adjustments necessary to get comfortable riding in a treeless saddle.
Happy horse and rider in a treeless saddle.
Happy horse and rider in a treeless saddle.

 

Here are some reasons why a treeless saddle might not work for you:

  • You are a heavy weight rider on a small/medium horse.
  • Your horse has prominent withers and an exposed spine. This type of conformation can be difficult to achieve proper wither clearance and spinal clearance on horses with a treeless saddle.
  • You require a lot of security in the saddle. A treed saddle with knee rolls, poleys, a pommel and horn are going to provide more security than a treeless saddle. There are treeless saddles with deep seats and knee rolls, but compared to a treed saddle with the same design, the treed saddle will most likely feel more secure.
  • You cannot rope cattle or dally a horse on the horn of a treeless saddle.
  • Mounting from the ground is important to you. Treeless saddles on some horses will slip when you mount from the ground. This is most often a problem on really round horses.
  • You ride many miles each week, including lots of up and down on steep hills. It can be problematic to keep a treeless saddle secure while going up and down hill, especially on round horses.
  • You stand in your stirrups a lot or like to jump. A treeless saddle cannot provide the support under the stirrup area that a treed saddle can. This also depends somewhat on your weight.

So, is there a weight limit to a treeless saddle? Generally speaking, the weight limit is around 170 lbs, but keep in mind there are plenty of exceptions. Depending on the size of your horse, it is possible to go over that limit. Riders who weigh above 170 lbs have ridden successfully in treeless saddles, but usually are on bigger, stout horses that can carry their weight with relative ease.

The US Cavalry came up with a useful guideline for how much weight a horse can carry without stress. According to them, the weight of the rider and his tack should equal approximately 20% of the weight of the horse. So, if your horse weighs 1000 lbs, both you and your tack should weigh approximately 200 lbs or less. This is only a guideline and there are exceptions of course, but this 20% figure has been backed up by recent stress testing.

Sometimes, you can increase that 170lb weight limit with a proper saddle pad using a combination of open and closed cell foam inserts and materials. The weight limit is also influenced by the position and skill of the rider, as that effects how the pressure from the rider is influencing the back of the horse.

In conclusion, we know that in the world of horses there are no hard and fast rules for fitting a living, breathing animal with an inanimate object on his back. We recognize there is a need for treed and treeless saddles, as the variables and needs of horses and riders are infinite.

 

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