treeless saddles

Horses have their preferences when it comes to saddle fit. Driven in part by temperament and sensitivity, but also by their physiology, fitness level, the demands of a chosen sport, and even the rider’s weight, some horses prefer treeless saddles while others do not. Determining the proper type and fit for your equine companion is the key to ensuring a comfortable ride for all. 

MYTH #1 – Treeless saddles hurt horses’ backs.

A saddle does not hurt a horse’s back because it is treed or not treed. A saddle hurts a horse’s back because it is not appropriately fitted to the horse and/or engineered to support the chosen purpose.

Treeless saddles need to be properly padded and fitted to the horse, just as a treed saddle does. The saddle structure also needs to be appropriate for the chosen use – you would not tie a roped steer to a very flexible treeless saddle, even if it had a horn! Rigidity should be optimized for the rider’s weight. A quality treeless saddle brand should have a weight limit set by the manufacturer. Use this as a guide. More weight requires more rigidity, in order to distribute the pressure out to the full length of the saddle.

MYTH #2 – All treeless saddles are the same.

Almost all treed saddles are made very much in the same traditional way, with variations in materials and proportions. In contrast, the one thing all treeless saddles have in common is that they are not made in the same traditional way. Any two treeless models may be completely dissimilar in their design and construction, so they would barely compare at all. You cannot generalize about all treeless saddles based on a bad fitting situation with a few – you really have to evaluate each type/brand individually.

Treed or treeless, a saddle that does not work for one horse may work beautifully for another. Also, a saddle that could work for a particular horse may hurt him if it is not fitted properly, so you must look at whether it is a saddle problem or a fit problem. It’s wise to find a saddle fitter who has experience with treeless saddle fitting when looking for sound advice on the appropriateness and fit of a particular treeless saddle for your horse.

Shannon Olson is an instructor and trainer specializing in Classical Dressage. In 2006, she imported her first Heather Moffett SoftTree Saddle from England for her own hard-to-fit horse. She serves North America, providing Saddle Fitting Services for Heather Moffett’s line of high quality flexible leather tree saddles.