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.

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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!

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

A Challenging Horse and a Never Quit Attitude

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Castlebar Link in an 80K ride in Killarney, NSW Australia with Pamela Karner riding in her Barefoot Lexington Treeless Dressage Saddle.

Pamela Karner is an endurance rider and an equine veterinarian. She has had quite an eventful time with her endurance gelding, Castlebar Link, or Link for short. Even after several serious accidents, Pam has persevered and continues to ride, train and plan for her next endurance ride with Link, a beautiful chestnut Anglo-Arabian.

Pam travels to Australia every winter, and that is where she found Link. Pam explains, “I picked Castlebar Link out as a three-year-old from a large, very successful endurance stud. They kept him over the winter and sent him to their trainer for four weeks. I picked him up the following year when I was back in Australia. That year he broke my leg, knee, and ankle with an explosive move while I was on the ground! I had never been hurt like that in 30-plus years of my large animal veterinary practice!”

”The following year he broke his splint bone in the pasture and required surgery,” she continues. “So we were even, both broken once. His six-year-old year he dumped me and I refused to let go of the long split reins, as I was alone in the Australian bush. His response was to double barrel the creature scaring him from behind… thus another hospital visit and surgery.

“The next two years I was determined to go back and start over with this affectionate, lovely horse who was fantastic to ride 99% of the time, but when frightened was over the top explosive. My natural horsemanship friend and coach here in the US was very helpful.

“Link has gradually come along. He is still not a horse to take for granted! We have managed to successfully ride multiple 40K rides and 4,80K rides. I am hoping that he will be ready for the Quilty 100-mile ride next year! It is a challenge in many ways. Link gets 7 months off every year. I start him back every December and leave early May!”

Is a Treeless Saddle Right for You?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.”

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?

Are Treeless Saddles Permitted in USDF/USEF Recognized Shows?

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Treeless Dressage Saddles, like this Barefoot Lexington Treeless Dressage Saddle, are permitted in USDF recognized dressage shows and are comfy for trail riding.

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.”

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Freeform Treeless Elite Dressage Saddle
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Barefoot London Dressage Saddle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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!

 

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.”

Action Rider of the Month – Trish Terry

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Trish Terry on a trail ride with her mustang mare, Star.

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. TrishSlingwineSmithTerry,Star,BFCheyenneShe 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. TrishTerryShortyBFCheyenneShe is in the training process right now, being ponied and saddled, and one day she will wear a Barefoot Treeless saddle too!

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!”