Saddle Fit and Saddle Trees
The ongoing controversy – Treed or Treeless?
Treeless advocates ride comfortably and successfully in their “saddles”. But keep an open mind to the potential damage you could be doing to your horse – in the long run!
Only a tree keeps the rider off the horse’s horizontal spine. You may think that to a horse a rider’s vertical spine and weight is of little consequence. The horse's centre of balance is directly behind the withers. A treeless saddle sits so close to the horse’s back that the rider cannot get far enough forward and will be behind the movement. The ‘saddle’ may sit behind the horse’s last supporting rib (ie., past the saddle support area). On a treeless saddle, the seat bones will dig into the horses back. A woman’s pubic symphysis is also in play – pretty uncomfortably. A 1/2 hour hack 2x/week is no big deal, but an upper level dressage horse that has a rider 150 lbs on its back upwards of 40 minutes 4-6 days/week? Yes, there may be more freedom in the shoulder through the scapula, but there are trees with flex, shoulder relief panels, and rear-facing tree points – while still supporting the vertical and horizontal spine of rider and horse respectively.
Much scapular damage has been done by tree points that are incorrectly angled and too narrow. A saddle with longer tree points that angle backward is optimum. A tree can be very detrimental if it is not made and fitted correctly, but no tree at all causes pain as well. Fibre-optic cameras and thermography scans have shown resulting bone chips and shoulder injuries to the horse – as well as other symptomatic issues.
Important is that the tree fits the horse both in length and over the withers. Treeless saddles (essentially bareback pads) may work for a while, especially if the horse has been ridden in a badly fitting treed saddle, but eventually constant pressure will cause irreparable damage.
Jochen Schleese, Certified Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist developed the Saddlefit 4 Life 80 point diagnostic evaluation to help you and your horse achieve optimal saddle fit! Book a Saddlefit 4 Life Educational event for your group!