A guide to treeless saddles
Treeless saddles seem to provoke very strong opinions in people, both for and against, so it is important to look carefully at the pros and cons.
Whatever you decide, they are not an alternative to qualified advice and fitting and cannot simply be bought and ¨plonked ¨ on the horse’s back.
Leaving aside pony pads and some racing saddles, the main difference between these and conventional saddles is that the latter have a inbuilt tree which clears the spine and withers. Treeless saddles have thick pads or panels of foam, leather, vinyl or fleece which cushion the back. Some such as the Freeform also have a high tensile aluminium bar to clear the withers, changed by hand to fit different horses.
Some treeless saddles such as the Saddle Up ones, look very different to conventional ones, others such as Solution Saddles, developed by event and dressage rider Anne Bondi, look almost identical from the conventional ones. For a long time the choice mostly of endurance riders, many are now available in dressage, jumping or general purpose styles.
· So what are the arguments FOR treeless saddles? Enthusiasts say that they
· provide greater comfort for both horse and rider, moulding to the shape of the horse with no pressure points
· are much more lightweight
· are fitted to the rider not the horse so can be used for more than one horse, reducing costs
· are a solution for horses who are difficult to fit because of conformation problems such as broad backs or high withers.
· provide a much closer contact for the rider.
The saddles cannot be used with conventional numnahs and need specialist pads, girths and leathers. They start at around £99 and go up to over £2000.
Let’s look then at the arguments AGAINST treeless saddles. Some argue that:
· The rider needs to have a greater level of skill and balance in many makes, because it is less easy to keep your position
they are not suitable for very heavy riders
· they tempt people to think that they do not need fitting when in fact the right combination of saddle and pads and in some makes saddle , base and pads is essential
· they can apply just as much pressure as a poorly fitting treed saddle.
In 2008 the Society of Master Saddlers used advanced pressure mapping systems to test the saddles against conventional ones over a period of 2 days. Full details are on their web site, but they concluded that the treeless saddles had no benefit at all over a correctly fitted saddle with a tree.
The lesson seems to be therefore , that whatever you choose, you should do so in conjunction with an expert and treat these saddles as every bit as specialist as any other saddle.