It is much easier (less time and expense) from a craftsman’s point of view as a saddler to build a treeless saddle than to build a treed saddle. However as a rider, Certified Master Saddler and saddle fitter I have evaluated thousands of horses and always recommend a (properly-fitted) treed saddle over a treeless. Let’s consider the purpose of the saddle tree - to optimally place and support the rider’s weight correctly over the saddle support area (the longissimus) of the horse’s back to achieve suppleness and freedom of movement.
A treeless saddle (similar to a bareback pad in structure) does not have the support structure to allow proper distribution of the rider’s weight on the horse’s back. In the middle of the saddle support area, the horse’s transverse spinal processes are completely straight. In a treeless saddle it means 100% of the rider’s weight is concentrated in this area. As most of the rider’s weight is under the seat bones, this causes individual pressure points on the horse’s back. Pressure points impede circulation and cause muscle atrophy, along with tendonitis and ligament damage. We want to avoid symptomatic long term damage and pain, but also incorrect muscle contraction leading to atrophy when the horse reacts to try and avoid pressure. The saddle tree is needed as a support system to allow both horse and rider to work in harmony as one.
Proponents of treeless saddles do agree the rider feels the horse’s motion more closely and is closer to the horse. There are no stiff or immoveable parts in the construction that could force the horse into an unnatural muscular reaction. Treeless saddles never need to be refit as he changes and matures.
When we consider the well-being of the horse, the disadvantages of treeless clearly outweigh the plusses. A treeless saddle is simply unable to properly distribute the rider’s weight over the saddle support area, and will always cause pressure points under the seat bones. Beyond causing pressure points, it is difficult for the rider to give the proper aids and it is almost unavoidable the horse will experience long term damage to its muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons in its back. A horse which has pressure points on its back is unable to bring its back up properly to compensate for rider weight or move freely when carrying a rider. This impedes the entire functionality of the biomechanics and load-carrying ability of the horse, and will lead to long term health issues diagnosed through MRI and thermography.
A treeless saddle may work for a short time as an interim solution when a treed saddle does not fit, but in the long run treeless saddles are not doing your horse any favors. I recommend Investing in a Saddlefit 4 Life® 80 Point Saddle Fit Diagnostic Evaluation to assess movement, comfort, freedom and saddle fit for you and your horse.
Jochen Schleese is author of ‘Suffering in Silence - The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013). Through the Saddlefit 4 Life global network of equine professionals Jochen Schleese provides industry education to help equestrians recognize and prevent saddle fit issues and long term damage to horse and rider. Find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Evaluation to horse and rider. www.SaddlesforWomen.com 1-800-225-2242 www.Saddlefit4life.com