Do you need special stirrup leathers for a treeless saddle?

The short answer is yes.

A traditional treed English saddle has a recessed metal stirrup bar affixed to the tree of the saddle. It is recessed into the tree so when the buckle of the English stirrup leather is right up against the stirrup bar, you won’t feel it under your thigh. It is covered with a small skirt of leather. Sometimes this still results in a bulge over the buckle, but it’s slight, and most people can tolerate the small lump under their thigh.

Treeless saddles do not have a tree, and therefore the stirrup attachment is most often under the seat. If you put your English stirrup leathers under the seat in the traditional way, the buckle will be a lump right under your thigh and you will be very uncomfortable. The solution is to put the buckle of the stirrup leather down by your ankle.

StirrupLeathers
Barefoot English Stirrup Leathers with buckle down by the ankle and stirrup leather keeper.

Basically, you are turning the English stirrup leathers upside down. Under your seat will only be the fold of the leather, and it will lie flat and not bother you. Now that you have the buckle down by your ankle, what do you do with the excess ends of the leathers so they don’t flop around?

To answer this question, the illustration below works better than words. Simply tuck the ends of the leathers back into the buckle and then between the two layers of leather and slide a stirrup keeper over the whole thing to keep everything neat and tidy. Ta-da!

BarefootDiagramAttachStirrups

 

Barefoot English Stirrup Leathers are rigged so the buckle is at the ankle and comes complete with the stirrup leather keeper. They are nylon lined so they won’t stretch, and made with soft and pliable leather for comfort.

 

40-ART003-2T
Action Rider Stirrup Leather Keepers

You can use regular English stirrup leathers with a treeless saddle if you put them on as the above illustration shows. You can purchase the Action Rider Stirrup Leather Keeper separately.

 

A traditional western saddle with fenders has the buckle for adjustments down by the ankle. The western or endurance fenders for a treeless saddle has a similar design. It is important for the top of the fender to be thin and pliable enough for it to lay smoothly under the seat of the western treeless saddle. The Barefoot Western Fenders and Barefoot Endurance Fenders are made with a nylon section that goes through the stirrup attachment to allow it to lay as flat as possible under the seat.

In Conclusion

The most important element for success with your English stirrup leathers, western fenders or endurance fenders with a treeless saddle is to eliminate the bulk of the buckles from under your thigh. To do this, the buckles need to be positioned down just above the stirrup, near your ankle. The result will be a smooth transition under your leg and you will be comfortable and in close contact with your horse.

 

 

 

 

Is a Treeless Saddle Right for You?

BarefootNevadaLIVEFieldgirl
Barefoot Nevada Treeless Western Saddle

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 leather, foam, fiberglass, felt and other materials to create panels for spine protection and a stiff pommel for wither protection. The decision to choose a treed or treeless saddle is most often based on what works best for your horse.

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 or creates a sore back.
  • You have a big moving or gaited horse that is restricted by the tree of a treed saddle.
  • You love to ride bareback and the close contact feel, 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 want a lighter weight saddle.
  • You have a young horse that is developing and changing shape.
  • You want to use a saddle on more than one horse.
  • 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.

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, knee rolls, and a horn, 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. (However there are some mounting aids that help with saddle slip)
  • 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.

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 certainly 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.

BarefootArizonaNutLIVEDraftfield
Barefoot Arizona Treeless Saddle

You can also increase that 170 lb weight limit with a proper saddle pad using a combination of open and closed cell foam inserts or other 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.

 

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.

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.

Tito: A Modernized Gaucho

TitoBarefootAtlanta
Tito at work on a ranch in Argentina.

Mariano Fernandez has a ranch in Argentina. He raises cattle and sheep and has about twenty ranch horses – real working horses that help to move the livestock. But this story is not about Mariano. It’s about his ranch hand, Tito.

Tito has been working on Mariano’s ranch for the last twenty-eight years. He is seventy-two years old, fit and lean and weighs in at 120 pounds soaking wet. Mariano describes Tito as a true representative of an Argentine gaucho.

Historically the gaucho of Argentina was known to be a skilled horseman who worked cattle. The gauchos of the Buenos Aires pampas, or grasslands, have been recorded as saying, “A man without a horse is a man without legs.” The Argentinean Criollo horse comes from the Andalusian and Arabian horses imported by the Spanish conquerors centuries ago. These wild horses adapted to the harsh conditions of the pampas and are tough and known for their endurance.

Mariano shared this story about Tito. “Eighteen years ago Tito was riding on horseback, probably chasing some animal. His horse put one of the front feet in an armadillo hole and rolled over. This resulted in a broken hip for Tito, the horse didn’t get hurt. Apparently Tito’s hip bones didn’t heal the same way they were so from that point on, he sort of rides slanted to the right side. The funny thing is that you tell him that and he doesn’t acknowledge it. I’m saying this because if you look at the saddle, you can see that it has been definitely ridden off balance. A very non-advisable thing to do with a treeless saddle in particular.

TitoWeb
Tito, 72 years old, still working and riding ranch horses.

“Typical Argentine saddles in this area are called recado,” Mariano explains. “It is a succession of layers without any hard structure. You basically have a sweat pad, one or two wool pads, a leather pad, the “saddle” and on top of that a sheepskin.  This recado saddle is very comfortable for the rider but it is usually not very good for the horse. The most common problems are pressure points and galling of the withers. Most people don’t wash the sweat pad so that results in even bigger problems.”

Traditionally the gaucho’s recado, a multi-layer design, was built with local available materials – leather and wool. When the gauchos are out on the pampas, the recado saddles can be disassembled and used as a sleeping bag when needed.

Mariano continues, “Tito rides different horses. There are about fifteen to twenty ranch horses and we rotate them in groups of four every shoeing cycle. We wanted to give Tito a saddle that was comfortable for him and the horse, but also adaptable to every horse that we have.

“Tito is seventy-two years old and has been working with us since we bought the ranch in 1990.  He uses the horses to move cattle, sheep and muster deer as well.  During the hunting season he also guides hunters on horseback. He is a true representative of a gaucho but now modernized with a Barefoot Atlanta Treeless Saddle. Everybody that meets him believes that he was born one century too late.”