The Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle

I recently took home the Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle to try on my TB cross that I ride on the trail and in the dressage arena. Action Rider Tack has carried the Startrekk Western, the Comfort, and the Endurance models for years, but we just recently stocked several dressage saddles.

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Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle

First, I have to say, the Startrekk Dressage Saddle by DP Saddlery of Germany is a good looking saddle made with quality leather. It looks like a traditional dressage saddle and sports a deep seat, prominent knee rolls, and traditional wool flocked panels. The panels provide good wither and spine clearance, so you don’t have to pair it with thick saddle pad inserts in your saddle pad. It also has quite a bit of structure and is stiffer, if you will, than other treeless saddles that are a bit squishier. (Squishier is a technical term.)

My Thoroughbred cross has a bit of a wither, but is also fairly wide in the wither and shoulder area. I didn’t take the time to swap out the gullet plate for the wider one that my horse needed, but with an extra half pad underneath, it sat level and rode comfortably.

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Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle with size 1 seat,  on 15.3 TB/Cross

Treeless saddles feel different. It takes a couple of rides to get used to them. I immediately felt the closer contact, even though I felt I was sitting in a traditional dressage saddle with support. As I let my horse warm up at the walk, and he took his very first step I could feel his back legs moving much more clearly. I could also feel his sides, his breathing, his ribs and his back moving.

After fifteen minutes or so, I began to settle in. I have found through the years that riding on a 15-20 meter circle, continually doing transitions between the walk and a slow sitting trot, is a great way to sink into a saddle and get in tune with your horse’s rhythm. It’s seems like it would be boring, but actually, I find it very relaxing as it makes you stay in the center and sit upright to stay balanced for the downward, then the upward transitions. Repeat. Your horse also relaxes and becomes in tune to your forward aids and your half halts, balancing back into the walk.

The great thing about the Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle is it’s adaptability to your horse. If your horse’s weight or muscle tone decreases, or he develops more muscle through the years of training, the saddle will still fit. There are six different gullet plates that bolt into the firm leather in the front under the pommel that you can order if you need them. When you put in a wider gullet plate, the channel under the saddle also slightly widens. The channel, or gullet, is about 3” with the average gullet plate fitted in the saddle.

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Wool flocked panels, and 3″ channel

I rode with my normal English leathers with the buckle up under my thigh on the stirrup bar. Some people might prefer Barefoot English Leathers with the buckle down by the ankle, or the Barefoot Dressage Leathers with a T-bar at the top and the bottom for a seamless transition under your thigh.

Saddle fit can be a nightmare. Treeless saddles like the Startrekk Dressage Saddle can solve some of these saddle fit problems and can also be a saddle you can take to the next horse. Because we all know, you can’t just have one horse, right?

Saddle Fitting is Evolving

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A variety of DP Saddlery endurance and trail saddles.

There is so much going on in the world of saddle fitting that it’s overwhelming. We get people calling us in total frustration – trying to get a saddle to fit their horse. These are customers who have had custom saddles, tried numerous saddles, and just can’t get anything to work. It can be challenging, as there are so many options. There is usually a conformation challenge involved with their horse, and some specific requirements that the rider needs.

Do we solve these saddle fit nightmares? Sometimes! We don’t just sell saddles from one saddlery, and Action Rider Tack is probably one of the only companies in the world with such a varied selection of treed and treeless saddles. We find we need a wide variety of saddles, saddle pads, shims, girths and cinches to be able to help customers make selections that make sense for their particular horse and horse activities.

Saddles are an investment, but an important one for your horse. A quality saddle can last up to 30 years or more! I know that for a fact as I have retired an over 30-year-old saddle reluctantly. It was an old friend. My butt knew that saddle and it was hard to replace. However, getting the right saddle regardless of the money invested is well worth it. You and your horse must be comfortable. Poor saddle fit can be the cause of resistant behaviors, sore backs, sour attitudes, and even lameness.

There are some new tools in the saddle fitting shed. DP Saddlery of Germany has introduced to the United States their adjustable gullet saddles. These saddles have truly revolutionized the saddle fitting world.

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One of DP Saddlery’s Baroque style adjustable gullet saddles.

There is a strong gear in the pommel area of the saddle tree that can be incrementally adjusted, millimeter by millimeter with the simple turn of an Allen wrench. This is superior to different replacement gullets or different tree sizes. What if your horse is in between sizes? A rider can turn the allen wrench, no strength required, until the saddle sits level, clears the spine, and does not impede the shoulder. The tree is a flexible carbon fiber, and the panels are attached at the front and the rear of the saddle to aid in the saddle flexing and moving with the horse.

The selection of DP Saddles styles will appeal to almost everyone – English all purpose, dressage, endurance, Baroque style, western, and trail saddles. It’s very exciting. It might be the last saddle you will ever buy, as obviously you can easily adjust it from horse to horse. The panels underneath are traditionally wool stuffed and can be reflocked or restuffed to customize it to your horse if necessary.

Why Does Your Saddle Slip?

Why does your saddle slip? Well… it’s complicated. Saddles can slip side to side, saddles can slip back, and saddles can slip forward. Not only is it annoying, it is unsafe. And safety with horses should be your number one priority.

First we have to address the simplest and most obvious cause. Your girth or cinch is loose. It is extremely important to check your girth before mounting, after mounting, after just a short walk away from your mounting block, and again after 5 minutes or so. During a long trail ride, check periodically. There are some saddle pads with foam or other inserts and they compress after you settle in the saddle, and can compress further after a long ride. Your horse may sweat during work, and your girth may need tightening after several hours in the saddle.

The next issue is saddle fit. A saddle that is too narrow or too wide will slip side to side and even forward or backwards. If your saddle has a tree, it must be the right size and fit your horse. There is no way around it.

Another common cause of saddle slip is while mounting. The way in which you mount your horse can effect how easily the saddle slips. For instance, how much you pull on the horn, pommel, cantle or seat. Mounting from the ground is putting torque on the saddle tree (if there is one) and possibly tweaking your saddle and the leather. As a daily ritual, mount from a mounting block. It will help your saddle, tree or no tree, last longer. It is also safer.

When out on trail, carry a step stool, search for higher ground, a log, a rock, anything to gift you a boost. There are saddles on very round horses that do indeed fit the horse, but still will not stay put for mounting from the ground. It also depends on the weight of the rider. More weight, more slip. Safe Rider makes a Trail Mounting Aid that keeps the saddle in place while mounting.

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Step Stool attached to saddle

Saddles slipping side to side can also be caused by the rider. It is more common than you think that you ride with more weight in one stirrup than the other. Many times your stirrups are not level. The best way to tell if your stirrups are equal length is to take them off and put them side by side. It might surprise you. To tell if you are weighting one stirrup more than the other, have a friend stand directly behind you while in the saddle. They will be able to see if your saddle is off center. You can also look down at the pommel and see if it is lined up with your horse’s neck. It may be necessary to ride without stirrups, or drop the longer stirrup to train yourself to stop putting more weight in it. It may take awhile to self-correct, however, it is worth the effort for both you and your horse. Your horse’s musculature will compensate for your unevenness, and your spine will suffer if you continue to ride with one collapsed hip.

You also should rule out any lameness. According to the British Equine Vet Association, the saddle will slip to the lame side. Your horse also may also be asymmetrical in his muscle development, shifting the saddle from the more built up side to the weaker side. Shimming the saddle pad may be necessary to even things out.

So – when you rule out  a loose girth, uneven stirrups, ill fitting saddle, unbalanced riding, lameness, and asymmetrical muscles, there are ways to combat saddle slipping in any direction.

Your choice of saddle pad plays a big part in saddle slip. Fleece is not a good choice, neither is felt. That rules out lots of saddle pads. You can try putting a non-slip, thin, inexpensive saddle pad under your other saddle pad. It kind of looks like shelf paper, but is more substantial. It’s only 18” x 22”, but worth a try since it is under $10. The HAF Saddle Pads from Italy have a pebbly, egg carton underlay that is helpful. There is also the Getta Grip Non-Slip Western Pad, and the Tacky Tack Western All Purpose Saddle Pad. I personally use a Dixie Midnight Saddle Pad under my other saddle pads, and even though the Dixie Midnight company does not make a claim for non-slip, I find it does help.

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GettaGrip Non-Slip Saddle Pad

Your girth or cinch choice is also a factor. Mohair is pretty grippy, so is neoprene, synthetics with egg carton looking underlay, and girths and cinches that are wider in the middle. Again, fleece or felt is not a good choice as a non-slipping material.

Breastplates and breast collars are designed to stabilize your saddle. The English style breastplate attaches to the D rings on either side of your saddle and to the girth stabilizing side to side movement, and preventing saddles from sliding back when going uphill. The western breast collar functions the same way and attaches to each side and it often has a neck strap to aid it in staying in place. I recommend either of these for all trail riders.

The back cinch of a western saddle can also help the saddle stay in place, but some horses are not used to them so a breaking in period may be necessary. To avoid the back cinch sliding too far back and becoming a bucking strap it must be attached to the front cinch with a connector strap or flank cinch hobble strap.

Lastly, cruppers prevent the saddle from sliding forward going downhill. They can be used on western or English saddles and are made of synthetic material or leather. Word of caution – some horses will come UNGLUED when you put one on, so a training period is needed. However, some horses will never tolerate one – proceed accordingly.

To sum it all up, as with everything involving horses, it is a case by case situation. It is necessary to evaluate your horse, your riding, your saddle and all your tack and equipment to come up with a working and safe solution to keep your saddle in place.

Action Rider of the Month – Jody Gular

Jody Gular owns two gorgeous Arabians and recently added a rescue Shetland pony to her herd. She lives on three lovely acres with her husband in Houston, Texas.

Jody comments, “I feel like I’m living the dream!”

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Jody Gular riding on her acreage in Texas.

“My elder Arabian mare, Dallas, a former endurance horse, is now 30 years old, and teaching my grand kids how to ride. I discovered Barefoot Treeless Saddles back in 2008 while trying to find a saddle that would fit her aging top line.

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Jodu Gular and her bay Arabian

“I ordered the Barefoot Atlanta for its good looks, comfort, and fit. Her top line actually improved with the new anatomically correct fit. We still hit the trails together, and Dallas has a steady stream of young girls in her fan club who love to exercise her for me.

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Jody’s Arabians introducing the next  generation to riding.

“The Barefoot saddle works on both of my Arabians as I can change out the pommel when my wider, flat backed Arabian, Fancy, uses it.

“I enjoy trail riding, and playing with my horses using the Parelli method of natural horsemanship.”

Why use Saddle Pad Inserts? Which Inserts are Right For Your Horse?

Action Rider Julie Campbell and her horse Kalena riding in a treeless saddle with EquiPedic foam inserts. Happy horse, happy rider.
Action Rider Julie Campbell and her horse Kalena riding in a treeless saddle with EquiPedic foam inserts. Happy horse, happy rider.

The choice of saddles pads is diverse enough to make your head spin. Saddle pad design and function with inserts is a specialty all its own. But it’s not rocket science. Basically, saddle pads with inserts are for when you need extra wither, spine and back protection. Inserts are always recommended with treeless saddles because it gives you extra insurance that the saddle is not going to press on the spine or withers. But they are also used with treed saddles for impact absorption and back support as well. The inserts are placed on either side of the spine, leaving a clear spine channel for its protection.

The foam material used to make the inserts generally falls into two categories – open cell foam and closed cell foam. Open cell foam, like the EquiPedic Conforpedic foam and Viscool foam is softer and squishier. It can be perfect for many situations like

EquiPedic ConforPedic 1" Open Cell Foam Inserts
EquiPedic ConforPedic 1″ Open Cell Foam Inserts

filling in the back, a slight sway back, or an extra buffer from the impact of your weight on your horse while riding long distances. There were many EquiPedic Saddle Pads with 1”Conforpedic Inserts under all types of saddles at the 100-mile Tevis Cup Endurance Ride, for example. These quality open cell foams can help distribute the weight of the rider under the saddle, reduce impact from the rider, while not creating pressure points. It will form somewhat to your horse’s back and movement.

Barefoot Regular Closed Cell Foam Inserts
Barefoot Regular Closed Cell Foam Inserts

However, at times, the 1” EquiPedic foam is too much. It lifts the saddle too far off the back, especially on round horses causing the saddle to be unstable. So, there are other thinner, denser, closed cell foam inserts that can provide excellent back protection and shock absorption like the Barefoot Regular, Barefoot Heavy Duty, and Matrix Ultra Pro inserts. These closed cell inserts are dense enough that you cannot pinch your fingers entirely together. It’s like rubber. These are very good for when the rider weighs 165 lbs and over, long distances, jumping, or whenever you need back protection. It provides a closer contact with your horse under the saddle.

And there are also inserts that combine open cell foam with closed cell foam like the Matrix Ortho Inserts. You get some squish and some firmness in one insert. They are also not as thick as the EquiPedic inserts. They are excellent for impact reduction and can contour to your horse’s back more than just closed cell foam alone. When needed, you can also use two inserts, closed cell and open cell foam together to achieve the same result.

Inserts do not last forever, and need to be replaced depending on how much you ride. Sweat, salt, moisture and heat will help the deterioration process, so it’s best to keep your saddle pads washed and stored in a clean, dry place. It’s much less expensive to replace the inserts than the whole saddle pad. If you ride many miles, you may have to replace the inserts every 1 -2 years.

Finally, saddle pad inserts cannot fix a saddle that does not fit, especially with a treed saddle that is too narrow. Inserts function as added safeguards and protection to your horse’s back. They are a great tool to keep your horse happy and comfortable while he provides you with years of riding enjoyment.

October Action Rider of the Month – Cassandra Olds

Action Rider Cassandra Olds is such a great treeless saddle success story, we had to share it. Read on.

Cassandra and Tell after a ride in the Black Forrest Shasta and Dr Cooks Bitless Bridle.
Cassandra and Tell after a ride in the Black Forest Shasta and Dr Cooks Bitless Bridle.

“I had always read about horses with behavioral issues that were as a result of poor fitting tack but I just assumed it was an all or nothing deal. It was a good fit or bad fit. I didn’t realize that even though the tack may fit, the horse may still not be comfortable. This is what my journey with Tell has taught me… Comfort matters!

“Tell is an 11-year-old quarter horse cross. When I took him on I noticed that he bucked furiously for the first five or so minutes when lunged with a saddle. He also flat out refused to go up any hill when hacking out, instead he would slowly wind his way up. It was put down to being lazy or having too much energy depending on the day.

“He is the gentlest creature on the ground with excellent manners so it didn’t add up. I had a hunch that he wasn’t comfortable with the saddle he came with so I did a lot of research on saddle options, treeless saddles specifically and decided to give it a go. At the same time I switched out his snaffle bit for a bitless bridle, having found that he pulled against the bit relentlessly.

“Since then we have done a four-hour mountain trail ride very comfortably as well as a number of shorter rides and I feel happier knowing that he is comfortable again. From a training perspective, it has been amazing to see how quickly he is learning now that we can focus on the lesson.

“Perhaps the most exciting moment for me was when coming back from a short ride in the arena; we approached a road going up a steep hill beside the barn. Normally we just walk straight to the barn, but on this particular day, Tell seemed to want to go up the hill (there are two horses at the top which he wanted to introduce himself to I guess). Knowing our past experiences with hills I decided to see what he would do if he had the choice, go to the barn or carry me up steep hill with him, which would he pick? Much to my surprise, he energetically walked up the hill! Changing the bridle has also made a world of difference, almost immediately he became very responsive to the lightest aids and no more pulling! Needless to say I am looking forward to find out what else he can do!”

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.