Treeless Saddles: Taking Root?

An innovative saddle design offers an alternative for hard-to-fit horses, and proponents of the treeless saddle say it has potential benefits for horses of every shape.
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An innovative saddle design offers an alternative for hard-to-fit horses, and proponents of the treeless saddle say it has potential benefits for horses of every shape.
Anne Bondi in an Ansur Saddle |

Anne Bondi in an Ansur Saddle |

You won't find it in tack shops or catalogues, but the Ansur treeless saddle developed six years ago by British-born dressage trainer Peter DeCosemo is gaining acceptance through word of mouth. Several thousand are already in use here and abroad (mostly for dressage, trail, and endurance riding; a cross-country jumping saddle recently became available) and Peter's Ansur Saddlery fills direct orders for forty to fifty saddles each week from its Washongal, Washington workshop. Professionals now using the Ansur include British dressage Olympians Christopher and Jane Bartle and FEI eventer Ann Bondi, and California dressage trainer J. Ashton Moore.

A British Horse Society certified instructor and examiner before moving to the States in 1987, Peter designed his saddle after training a client's horse from Third Level to Grand Prix in a bareback pad because he could not be made comfortable in a conventional saddle. The Ansur saddle, constructed with layers of leather, foam, and shock-absorbent padding "like a German layer cake," feels soft and resilient to the horse and cushions his back against rider imbalance or bouncing, says Peter, yet gives the rider a much greater feel for the horse's movement.

Because the absence of a rigid tree allows the saddle to conform itself to any horse's back, Ansur is fitted solely to the rider. Distributors of traditional rigid-tree saddles point out that treeless saddle haven't been in use long enough to determine their durability, and cite them as a last-resort solution for horses whose backs are too round or broad for conventional saddles. Peter says that while the Ansur is beneficial to horses with that conformation, "it's beneficial to every horse." The biggest challenge, he says, may be the owner's: "Nearly all horses move with bigger gaits in a treeless saddle so the rider is trying to move and sit to a different horse."