I'm curious about treeless saddles and was wondering if those who have one or have used a treeless could answer a few questions for me.
1) How is it an improvement on normal saddles - does it distribute the rider's weight more evenly? Conform to the horse's shape better? Etc?
2) Can any horse be ridden in a treeless or do they have to have a certain build? I imaging they would have to have a good topline so the weight isn't carried on their spine?
3) Can you jump in a treeless?
4) Do they need to be fitted? I think I remember reading somewhere that they don't, but I could be wrong.
Please add any other info you think I should know. Thanks in advance!
Yes, they do need to be fitted. A treeless will fit a wider variety of horses, but they still need to fit. Different treeless saddles are suitable for different types of horses. Ex: Bob Marshalls are good for slightly wide to "normal" horses, but not great for super wide (think drafts or haffies) and not great for really shark withered TB types. Barefoot saddles have a changable pommel that will work for narrow horses to super wide, though not for really high withered horses.
Some treeless saddles have a weight distribution system, like Freeform, Sensation, Barefoot, Startrekk, etc. Some do not, like Tosrion, Bob Marshall, Black Forest, etc. They all need special saddle pads, though the ones without any panels or weight distribution systems need a more substantial pad. Treeless pads should have firm foam panels on either side of the spine, to create spinal clearance and weight distribution.
Any size person can ride a treeless. I weigh 250-270, depending on when you catch me, lol. I'm working on losing of course, but we all know how that goes... My DH is 240, and he also rides my treeless. I use a Bob Marshall Endurance saddle with specialized Treeless Skito saddle pad AND a ThinLine Western pad underneath. My Skito has 3/4" firm foam with 3/4" lamination (creates more spinal clearance and better weight distribution for heavy riders). The ThinLine pad is used under or over my Skito, for added weight distribution and makes things non-slip. I also use a roper style mohair girth and an over-the-neck style breastcollar for trails. The set-up is very secure and my horses' backs are always comfy, even on long 4-5 hour trail rides.
Horses lacking in topline (spine sticking up and/or hollows behind the withers) can use a treeless saddle, but they need more creative padding while they build muscle. Treeless saddles can actually be very beneficial for these horses as their backs are protected by layers of foam from the rider's weight, and their muscles stay comfortable, which makes the horse more likely to use their back and hind end more effectively. Most treeless saddles conform to the horse's back, so extra shims are needed for "dippy" or swayed horses, so you don't sink too far and end up trapped by your saddle, lol.
If you want to try a treeless, I recommend finding a good dealer. They will work with you to find the right saddle for you and your horse, and you can demo the saddle and pad(s), to make sure it's going to work for you.
Oh, yes, you can jump in them IF you are a light rider (140 lbs or less). Heavier riders can be unstable over fences, depending on the saddle. People jump in Sensation, Freeform, and Ansur treeless saddles.
Here's something I posted on another board, in response to someone who said treeless saddles are bad for horses' backs. I have listed saddle pads and saddles, so that may be helpful to you.
Also, there's a group on Yahoo Groups dedicated to treeless saddles. Go to groups.yahoo.com and search for treeless saddles. If any of the members are in your area, they might be willing to let you try their saddles.
Endurance riders have logged tens of THOUSANDS of miles in treeless saddles in the USA, Canada, Europe, and Australia. These rides are heavily monitored and the horses vetted at frequent stops on the ride. If the horse shows back soreness, the rider is pulled and is not allowed to finish the ride. Do you think these riders would take a chance at using a saddle that would sore their horse and get them pulled from the ride? I seriously doubt it. In fact, the 2007 winner of the prestigious Tevis Cup 100 mile endurance race won riding on a Freeform Treeless saddle and I believe a Haf pad (the brand is Haf, from Germany).
Thank you so much!
I've been thinking recently that I should buy a dressage saddle (atm I only have a Wintec 500 AP), and I'm looking at my different options. I like the idea of the treeless, so I'm thinking if I got one I'd use the treeless for dressage and the AP for jumping.
The best treeless Dressage saddles are Sensation, Freeform, and Ansur. The Freeform is nice because you can swap out the seat for a different size, and it still looks pretty traditional with a rider in it.
Wow, Luvs2ride has given some great advice and links! Also, you can search the archives in the ridecamp section on endurance.net. There are some helpful hints and comments about all types of different saddles there. You can also check the classified to make sure you are paying good market value for your purchase.
When I purchased my horse had had been ridden for several years in a poor fitting english saddle which had caused him pain and restricted his willingness to extend and round his back. He also had been used primarily for arena work so lacked a substanial amount of muscle development for the discipline I would eventually be using him for. He had quite high withers and hollows in his back so I was going to have to custom fit one but was concerned that his form would change so much I would be back to square one with his new body needing another saddle.
I did not want to spend a lot of money on a transitional saddle and decided to go with the Barefoot model. It was relatively inexpensive and took a bit getting used to but I have ridden in it over the past year. He has done well in it and has performed well during his transition. His range of movements and extension have dramatically improved, his back is not sore anymore, and his ground manners for the tacking process are almost normal. It has adapted to his weight gain and muscling fine. The contact on the back is even. You do have to be quite a good rider for this saddle and I had to work quite a bit on my rising trot so I didn't ever actually "land" on the come down and pound his back.
It was difficult to get used to at first as it must be ridden in for a few times before it conforms to your horses body. I almost turned it back as it was slipping even with a mohair cinch and the Barefoot ortho pad. I ended up with a Skito and breastcollar to help stabilize it. It is very close contact and I find it like riding in a bit of a glorified bareback pad. Many times I said it was a saddle for him, not me. It is the type of saddle that is not very forgiving if you are not a balanced rider or have to spend hours in. Not a lot for those OMG moments you may encounter. However, I do like the dressage seat position and easy movements of the fenders.
I know several endurance riders who have used this saddle through a transition period and it has worked well for them also. Personally, I have ridden several hundred kilometers in it throughout the Alps. Any dealer should let you try before you buy. But, as always, get it in writing. Used ones come up on the market for quite cheap.
However, I am excited to say he has come a long way and is ready for a new saddle and that we are going to get fit and measured for a new Gaston Mercier in a few weeks!
He definitely has some hollows behind his withers. You'll need a Skito pad with shoulder shims to fill in for those. If you don't get that kind of pad, then just about any Treeless you use will fall in to those pockets and cause irritation on the withers and spine. Now, with the Skito pad and shims, you should do just find! My DH's Anglo (TB x Arab) has a similar back and he does very well with my Bob Marshall endurance saddle, with added shims.
For his back shape you'll want to look at a Sensation Dressage or English Trail, or a Freeform with the new cutback front.
Freeform is coming out with the same design in a Dressage/VSD saddle. This one is a picture of the Endurance model with the cut back. It's proving to be VERY stable on the horse, and great for horses with high withers.
A nice photo gallery of people riding in Freeform saddles, mostly their "Classic" model. The Liberty model is also very "dressage-y". Horse Connection - Photo Gallery