- Why Treeless?
What on earth would possess a person to go TREELESS, you ask? Or better yet, what the heck does "treeless" even mean?!
I get asked that fairly frequently by family (and non-horsey friends ;-). Well, treeless means just that: without a tree--or in other words, without the rigid bars inside the saddle seat that today's traditional saddles have.
There is a growing movement of horse enthusiasts that is coming to see the wisdom in not restricting the movement of their horse with these rigid bars. Not only that, but they're growing awfully tired of having to go looking for another doggone saddle every time their horse's build is altered with exercise, weight fluctuations, or a growth spurt.
My personal "conversion" over to treeless happened about six or seven years ago when I happened across a YouTube video showing actual bars (without the constructed saddle around them to conceal them) resting plainly on a horse's back. Now, these bars seemed to rest pretty darn cleanly in proportion with the horse's back conformation when it was just standing there. So to a saddle fitter, these would have been a perfectly acceptable match and would have gotten the big thumbs up had the bars been inside a saddle that was being fitted to this horse.
Well, did I ever get an eye-full when that horse was then asked to move forward and bend to the left and right, then flex it's head up and down in the different gaits, changing the contours of it's back! Needless to say, the tree (or bars) did NOT bend and move with it's body as it moved in all directions. As a matter of fact, with each lateral (and vertical) flexion, the tree would suddenly lift on one corner, tilt, and dig into the other... and hollowed out, or bridged, in the center. Now add a rider's weight to that equation, and you have very unforgiving, hard surfaces grinding into your horse's back, loins, withers, and shoulder muscles with each step--whether they like it or not! No wonder so many horses are saddle sour--and often have white hairs on their shoulders and withers. Epiphany!
With horses being asymmetrical creatures and in constant motion, it makes complete sense that the ONLY time a saddle's tree, even a properly fitted one, would be complementary to the body of a horse is if it never moved. It's really that simple.
Now, there are many traditionally-minded riders who simply will hear nothing of the concept of a treeless saddle given their understanding that the horse's back needs to be protected from seat bones, and their spine must be protected from direct contact of the rider's weight. Thus the perception that the bars of a tree are the only solution to this need and taking them away is an unthinkable prospect.
I wholeheartedly agee that a horse's spine and back need to be protected, absolutely! Most particularly with rigorous or extended riding, for sure. I also am fully aware that there are some questionably made "treeless" saddles out there that are little more than glorified bareback pads with stirrups attached. But to lump ALL treeless saddles into this category would be to liken all bits as being equal, which of course would be ludicrous.
Then there is the unfortunate situation where some folks have given even decently made treeless saddles a bad rap by going cheap on their saddle pads and not taking care to aquire ones with adequate spinal protection. Take a horse on a 10 mile endurance ride or cattle drive without being mindful of this and yes, you've just increased the likelihood that your horse may not exactly be a happy camper when all is said and done. Ah, more forum fodder for the treeless saddle naysayers!
I have personally either bought, ridden in, or demo'd a fair number of treeless saddles available on the market. Each one had it's varied merits for sure, but I never could lock in on one that had ALL the key features important to me. Namely, I wanted a treeless saddle that: (1) Has stability--not prone to rolling when mounting... (2) Keeps me in close contact with my horse... (3) Has a nice twist to the seat... (4) Has good wither clearance... (5) Has rigging that was easy to manage & familiar... (6) Doesn't have a goofy pommel, cantle, or fenders... (7) Is lightweight & easy to handle, yet firm with good support... (8) Is quality-made in both craftsmanship and materials, yet still affordable... well, basically one that... (9) LOOKS and FEELS like a real western saddle instead of a wannabe!!! So much so that unless I was to divulge it, noone would know it wasn't a treed saddle.
I Googled till the cows came home & exhausted all my options in North America, then stumbled one day on the perfect, affordable solution from a saddler in Europe...
ENTER: the Colorado Springs "Denver" treeless saddles from France! Click HERE to view. (NOTE: shortly afterwards, I also found the amazing treeless western saddle line "FreeMax"... and a few years later, EDIX saddles joined the roster! So many wonderful options!)