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trailhorserider 03-06-2012 07:03 PM

Let's talk saddle trees! Ralide Trees? Steele Trees?
Hi all,

I see a lot of talk about what makes a good saddle, what saddle brands are cheap, imported, etc. And of course the heart of the saddle is the tree.

I was curious about what people thought about a couple of saddle tree brands. For instance, I have heard negative things about Ralide, especially years ago when they first came out, but it was more of "they can't be any good because they are plastic" sort of thing. Not actual reports about them being bad trees. And here we are years later and they are still being used. What do you guys think?

Personally I have had a few Ralide trees and never had a problem with them durability wise. I have had a couple not fit well, but that is the shape of the tree, not the material. That happens with any tree. But durability wise they have done well for me. What are your guys experiences with them?

And while we are at it, what about Steele trees? They are wood with fiberglass wrap. I have found them to fit my horses very well, in my small sample of two. :lol: Are they considered pretty good, or just "okay" as far as trees go?

I know it was always said that bullhide wrapped wood trees are the best, but even they come in different qualities I would assume.

What makes a good saddle tree? What brand or style is most likely to fit the most horses comfortably? I know horses are all different of course, but I would assume the better the tree, the more versatile it should be, at least in a mass-produced saddle. Thoughts?

Saddlebag 03-06-2012 07:21 PM

Ralide had some problems with the trees initially but that was remedied years ago. In one instance I was seeing cracked trees because the cantle screw was screwed in too close to the stirrup slot. Not Ralide's fault.

trailhorserider 03-06-2012 07:25 PM

That's good to know! They have served me well. :-)

SouthernTrails 03-06-2012 07:53 PM


Nice Subject Trailrider, but complicated……lol….

Import Trees are many times hollow fiberglass, some are solid fiberglass... that being said the fiberglass they use from India generally lacks a high quality resin to form a strong cohesive bond among the layers of fiberglass, thus the many problems, breaking, nails and screws not holding in the tree, etc.

Ralide Trees are now a Injection molded polyethylene polymer, at one time there were complaints in the 70’s of a lower quality formula. This has been overcome and Ralide is actually one of the strongest trees available. I have seen tests of a front tire of a Dodge Pickup running over the seat and also have seen tests of hydraulic rams being used to try to break the swells and the cantle apart, they sustained more pressure than a dozen other wood trees reinforced with fiberglass and bullhide.
Ralide Tree are very consistent in size and shape, but they have their limitations, they cannot be custom shaped and have a limit to the Horse they will fit, they also have a preformed seat which does not allow for a shaped and ground seat for a better fit to the rear of a rider.

Steeele Saddle Tree company is said to be the largest Wood Tree maker in America, their trees are southern pine and are wrapped with Fiberglass sheets and have a very high quality resin to bond the fiberglass sheets together, making a very strong waterproof seal which protect the wood from insects and moisture.

Fiberglass reinforced Wood Trees also allows for a Custom Saddle maker to use a tin seat or a strainer, the strainer is a thick fiberglass sheet, both versions offer the Saddle Maker to better shape the seat for a more comfortable ride, many call this method a ground seat.

Now some of the shelf Saddle Makers just use a fiberglass strainer and cover that with leather and padding, the more care to this and the more shaping is what makes the difference even in the off the shelf Saddles, of course the more time spent the more money.

Roping Trees, Ranch, Wade and higher quality trees may have 2 or 3 layers of fiberglass in key areas for added strength.
Some Wood trees are covered with a layer of fiberglass and then bullhide, while others are just bullhide covered. Bullhide covering can make the tree much heavier in weight also.
Then we progress to solid hardwood trees, even the horns can be wood, but generally reserved only for the large diameter and heavier swelled Wade style Trees.
These trees can be covered in fiberglass or bullhide.
Solid Wood Trees of course are stronger than pine and some of the models covered with bullhide can run over 700.00 just for the Tree.

I am sure I have left out a few things, but hopes this gives a general idea….


trailhorserider 03-06-2012 10:01 PM

Very very cool!

And it's interesting that the Ralide trees are so strong. I remember when I was a beginner (in the 90's) some folks were telling me the Ralide trees were a "cheap" tree and that I should stay away from them. But it sounds like if you are not ordering a custom saddle and are just pleasure riding, they are as good as any (as long as they fit you and your horse, which goes for any tree). So now I know they are quite durable. Which is what I thought, but hey, I'm not roping or anything. :lol:

Speaking of which, if they are very strong, why are they not a popular choice for roping saddles? Just the tradition that bull hide covered wood is the best?

It seems like many saddle trees do not have much flare. And at least with my horses, flare is a good thing. I always seem to get the broad, sway-backed type horses. It was such a relief to get a Fox Trotter with a fairly normal back shape. All my past horses have either been Arabians or stock horses with wide, short, swayed backs. Saddle fit nightmare!

Hmm. Maybe now I should start a thread on rigging! :rofl:

bsms 03-07-2012 12:28 AM


Originally Posted by trailhorserider (Post 1395414)
... All my past horses have either been Arabians or stock horses with wide, short, swayed backs. Saddle fit nightmare!...


I'm quite fond of my Arabian mare, and my 3/4 Arabian Appy is a good gelding...but the combination of high withers, wide ANGLE at the shoulders but narrow horizontal WIDTH, plus short backs make it a challenge to find a saddle that fits. I primarily ride with Aussie-stye saddles now for that reason.

I prefer the western saddle overall, but finding one that fits my horses is a challenge! :evil:

its lbs not miles 03-07-2012 09:03 AM

Not made by Ralide or Steele, but there's the "tree" (or frame if you like) for Trooper saddles (or the Universal Pattern military saddle if you have a really old antique one). The pommel and cantle are metal usually bronze or stainless today. The bars are wood. It holds up well and the bronze especially can be reshaped to fit changes in your horse over time. Provided you have someone with the knowledge and ability to do the refit.

horseshoe 03-07-2012 04:01 PM

I too have had people tell me to stay away from Ralide trees as they are 'cheap' and 'plastic' but i think those people were living in the past, i think Ralide trees have come a long way since then and they have been great for me, they have never broken and have fit my horses really well. They are lightweight which suits me and they are super strong and can be roped off if you have the correct horn insert (double loop-lock) i think it is (plus because of the material they are made from they allow for a little ‘flex’ so they are not as likely to fracture under pressure)
The best thing about these trees is there uniformity and consistency in shape so I can order another saddle from the same maker and know that the seat and feel will be identical to the one I’m already riding in. the fact that they are moulded in one piece means I never have to worry about joints coming loose, wood warping or fibreglass cracking or splitting.

HanginH 03-07-2012 04:35 PM

I have never built a saddle on a Rawlide tree but have built a couple on some cheeper middle of the road trees from Bowden Saddle Trees out of the states and a few more on some very high end wood rawhide trees built by Rod Nikkel out of Alberta.
I believe that the Rawlide trees are decent enough trees that can be used to make durable saddles (actually my old rope saddle has one and it has served me very well the last 16 years). The problem that I have seen with Rawlide and Bowdens trees is in the bars and the overall shape and length of them. Both of them are shorter in overall length on average and they are narrower than the trees that I get from Rod. This means there is less surface area to distribute the riders weight on the horses back.
Also because they are mass produced basically all I can get is the styles that they offer and that is. Rod's are all custom made and he stands behind his work. I know that if I had a faulty tree for some reason he would be more than willing to make it right. I have posted a link to his site before as he and his wife Denise have done a lot of work to provide a lot of information on saddle trees and how they build them. The limiting factor for a lot of people is that Rods trees probably cost two to three times more than a tree from a mass produced shop. For me though its way easier to build on them because I know they are square and the utmost thought and consideration is put into the construction of their trees. I like to buy localy when ever I can as well and Rod and Denise are two of the nicest people around.

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