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.
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? 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.
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.
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.
Linda Riley’s Arabian gelding is a great example of the versatility of the Arabian breed. She has adjusted her goals and activities to what was best for her horse, and fortunately he was a willing partner to her many fun adventures.
Linda explains, “Squire has been with me since 2001. His registered name is Canterbury’s Squire. He is a purebred Arabian gelding that was born in 2000. I am a young 63 years old and have been riding since I was 6 years old.
“We started out with the intentions of Squire following in the hoof prints of my last half-Arabian and become a Hunter/Jumper. It was not to be. At two years old, Squire ended up having surgery on his hocks from growing too fast. We instead decided to pursue the avenue of parades, drill team, and trail rides.
“The Red Hats and Purple Chaps provided the ideal opportunities for that. Squire was on their original drill team and performed at the Kentucky Horse Park and many other venues during his Drill Team career. He also paraded with the Red Hats and Purple Chaps group in a number of parades including the Pegasus Parade in Kentucky and the Chicago McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
“In 2009, right before one of the big parades, Squire was diagnosed with Neurosarcoma Cancer. He underwent surgery and chemo treatment for this and has, so far, been a cancer survivor.
“We decided to settle our lives down and joined The American Competitive Trail Horse Association. This was the opportunity to compete on six miles or so of trails with judged obstacles about every mile. We earned points to qualify for certain prizes, but unfortunately, I had an accident with my shoulder that side lined that goal.
“Currently, after a couple of years of surgeries and physical therapy, Squire and I are going to just enjoy some peaceful trail riding. Thanks to Action Rider Tack we have a very comfortable saddle to do this in. Great tack that is a breeze to keep clean, and clothes from them that keep me comfy too. We might change the way we ride, but hopefully we will continue to ride until we cross that rainbow bridge.”
The United States Equestrian Federation, USEF, is the ruling organization for the United States Dressage Federation, USDF, recognized dressage shows across the United States. We asked Hannah Niebielski, the Director of Dressage of the United States Equestrian Federation if treeless saddles were permissible in USDF/USEF recognized dressage shows. Here is her answer:
“Dear Action Rider Tack,
“Per DR121.1, An English type saddle with stirrups is compulsory for all tests and classes other than FEI tests. Stirrups must have closed branches.
“An English type saddle may be constructed with or without a tree but cannot have a horn, swell, gallerie, or open gullet. Australian, Baroque, Endurance, McClellan, Spanish, Stock, or Western saddles are not permitted nor are modified versions of these saddles (exception: competitors with a current approved Federation Dispensation Certificate). A Dressage saddle which must be close to the horse and have long, near-vertical flaps and stirrups is compulsory for FEI tests.”
“The saddles pictured appear to be permissible at USDF/USEF Dressage Competitions.” – Thanks Hanna! So dressage riders who love treeless saddles – trot on down the center line and salute!
Trish Terry is married with four kids and lives in Brighton, Colorado. Her horses are kept at her home. She works for the City of Boulder full-time, and also has her own business called 100% Mohair Horse Tack, where she hand makes custom mohair western cinches, English girths, and breast collars. All of that keeps her busy, but she makes the time to go out on trail rides every weekend. She rides in the surrounding areas of Boulder, Lafayette, Louisville, and Adams County. Colorado offers many beautiful places to ride that are horse friendly, so Trish never runs out of new adventures.
Star is Trish’s 11-year-old domestic mustang mare that has been part of her family for the past six years.
“Star is an amazing trail horse and she has a silly pony type personality. I ride her in my Barefoot Cheyenne with an upgraded sheepskin seat, and a bitless bridle. She is also barefoot herself, because I try to keep my horses as natural as possible, and I use the kindest tack I can. No bits for me, and definitely no treed saddles, and mohair all the way.
“She was a very hard horse to fit in a treed saddle, due to her barrel shape. Star is 15 hands and 1,250 lbs, and quite the easy keeper. I tried a variety of treed saddles, which she always balked at, until I finally went treeless. The Barefoot is actually my first new saddle ever! I just love it. I can mount from the ground, it doesn’t slip, and it is the most comfortable saddle I have ever used. I use a Diamond wool pad with cut out spine with it too.”
Trish continues, “Our older mare, Silky, was 38 and she just passed away last November. So we recently acquired a two-year-old black and white pinto filly named Indie. She is in the training process right now, being ponied and saddled, and one day she will wear a Barefoot Treeless saddle too!
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a big year for us here at Action Rider Tack! We celebrated the grand opening of our brand new retail store front, as well as the birth of Megan’s baby Riley, and of course Carla’s very first grand babies: Gracie and Drew! In an effort to celebrate the ever-expanding next generation of Action Riders, we invite you all to share photos of your own Barn Babies and their Buddies, for a chance to win a brand new Barefoot Bellis or Barefoot Lilly Children’s Saddle, just in time for the holidays!
Baby Drew – Carla (owner of Action Rider Tack) welcomed her first grandchild on August 9th!
Whether they walk or crawl, on four legs or two, submit your photos to email@example.com with a short caption introducing your new Action Rider to the world! All photo submissions will be archived on our Next Generation Pinterest Board, available to browse on Facebook!
Miss Riley – Born in January to Action Riders, Megan and Tyler.
Each entry will be submitted into the pool of names, with one winning name to be drawn on October 20th, 2015. The winner gets to choose between a Bellis (blue) or Lilly (pink) saddle. The Barefoot Bellis comes in blue and black, and can also be ordered in a western version. The Barefoot Lilly saddle is available in pink and brown or blue and black, Englishonly.
Please note, by sending in your photos to Action Rider Tack, you’re giving us permission to share photos and captions in an online photo collection.
When I asked Kate Krival to send a photo so we could feature her as the Action Rider of the Month, she responded, “Oh, goodness, I sometimes feel like an INAction Rider . . . but I’m getting there. Ha!”
Kate’s two palomino mares are Mountain Pleasure Horses, a breed that is not very well known. Kate explains, “The mare on the left as you’re looking at the image is 8-year-old Goldfiner’s Serenade, or Summer, and the mare on the right is 19-year-old Goldfinger’s Glorie, or Glorie for short. They’re both Mountain Pleasure Horses and they each have a delightful, easy, 4-beat lateral gait that is a dream to ride. They are surefooted and agile, sweet, and very strong for their size.”
“Both mares accepted the Barefoot Amber Bitless Bridles with ease, and although Glorie is happy with a French link snaffle, too, I aim to ride Summer bitless always. According to the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association, the Mountain Pleasure Horse is the oldest gaited breed in North America and is genetically the parent breed of all North American gaited breeds including the Rocky Mountain, Tennessee Walking Horse, American Saddlebred and Kentucky Mountain Horse.
Glorie, the 19-year-old, enjoys her retirement from motherhood, the occasional trail ride, and being groomed. She had eight foals before Kate bought her. “I’ve never had a horse who so loved having her face brushed and washed.”
“Summer liked to ride out on the trail for miles with her former owner, and I aim to work up to those long rides too,” Kate adds. “She also has an aptitude for agility that I hope to develop.”
Kate is back to riding following a bad injury and a recent diagnosis of chronic leukemia that she is learning to live with. She is pictured holding both of her mares after riding on the trail with a friend.
Kate comments, “We are all a bit of a mess after a very buggy trail ride. But I thought I’d send it along anyway for a giggle. For me, the day was a treat – and a celebration of one month on my leukemia medication, with great results!”