Pros and Cons of Treeless Saddles
 By Winniefield Park   •   15th Apr 2016   •   2,184 views   •   0 comments
Pros and Cons of Treeless Saddles

If you’ve done any saddle shopping at all, you may have come across more than one that boasts that it is “treeless”. What’s the difference between saddles that do and don’t have trees? A saddle that is built around a somewhat rigid form is considered to have a tree. A saddle that lacks this form is said to be treeless.

Early saddle trees were made from carved wood. Trees are now more likely to be made of laminated wood. Softwood is usually used and this allows a small amount of flexibility while not being too heavy. There are also saddles made with synthetic trees. These can often be found in less expensive saddles. Because the material doesn’t hold hardware as well as wood, these saddles tend not to last as long as those built on wooden trees. Spring tree saddles are made with more metal pieces to allow even more flexibility. Rigid tree saddles are usually quite old, and spring tree saddles are now the norm.

There are a lot of variations in the shape and size of trees, depending on what type of saddle will be built. Of course, western and English trees are distinctly different, and there are many differences depending on the use of the saddle. But, even though a tree and saddle can be made for a specific horse and rider, or a specific purpose, should you have the money to spend, many people feel that it is much more comfortable for horse and rider to use a treeless saddle.

In a way, treeless saddles are a step backwards to a time when saddles weren’t much more than pads of animal hides that cushioned the rider and perhaps provided a place to hang stirrups from. Trees made saddles much more stable, especially when a soldier had to balance while wielding a weapon. Thankfully, combat from the saddle is not a skill we have much use for, and most of us can stay nicely centered without worry. So, treeless saddles can be an alternative for many riders and they can be bought for show ring or trail use.

But, are they more comfortable than a saddle with a tree, for the horse or the rider? It depends. You will find riders who love, love, love their treed saddles and those who wouldn’t part with their treeless. I’ve tried both, and of the few treeless saddles I’ve sat in, I wouldn’t trade for my Schleese dressage saddle. So, whether or not a treeless saddle suits the rider is a matter of opinion. Some people claim they are more dangerous to ride in, because they are more likely to turn than a treed saddle. I know people who mount from the ground into their treeless, so I would expect this may be a problem with specific designs, than with all treeless saddles in general.

What about the horse? Here’s another situation where you wish horses could talk. Many people claim that their horses perform better in a treeless saddle. So if they have tried numerous treed saddles which have been fitted to their horse with no success, those results speak for themselves. Some horses are really hard to fit, and a treeless saddle may be just the ticket. What I do like about a treeless is that you are much closer to the horse, and it’s much easier to be clear with your aids. This is a benefit to both horse and rider. But if you’ve ever tried hiking carrying a backpack with a frame, rather than just a loose pack you’ll know that it’s much easier to balance the load packed around the frame, so might not a horse feel this too?

Certainly, treeless saddles are more flexible and often lighter. But that doesn’t mean that any treeless saddle will work for any horse. There are some really poorly made treeless (and treed, of course) saddles out there. The major problem is exactly what you’d think you were avoiding by not using a saddle with a tree - pressure points. The rigging on some saddles - the parts that attach the girth or stirrups to the saddle is not designed to spread out the pressure well over the horse’s back. And, the rider, rather than being held up over the horse’s spine as with a treed saddle, sits directly on top of the spine. A well designed treeless may avoid this. Nor is a treeless saddle a one-size-fits all solution if you ride several different horses. You still need to fit the saddle to the horse.

You will of course find many people who will argue on both sides and claim their treed/treeless saddle is better. What do you think?
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