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Western Saddle Guide > Saddle Types > Treeless Saddle

Treeless Saddle

The treeless saddle is a bit of a lightening rod in the riding world. People familiar with this new style seem to either love it or hate it. We’ll try to shed some light on the two sides of this controversial topic. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this saddle style is still relatively new and will need some time to determine what role, if any, it’ll play in the world of saddlery.

Let’s start by defining what constitutes a treeless saddle.

Typical features include:

  • Unlike a saddle with a saddle tree, there aren't any bars to connect the fork and cantle. Instead, layers or panels of material (leather, nylon, rubber, foam, etc.) take the place of the bars. The goal is for the material to be soft enough to conform to the horse’s back, but rigid enough to clear the spine.
  • This is a close contact saddle and allows you to ride very close to the horse. Simulates riding with a bareback pad.
  • The design results in a relatively wide seat
  • It’s recommended that you use a saddle pad specifically designed for these saddles that will help with weight distribution
  • It’s recommended that you use a breast collar to help prevent the saddle from rolling
  • They come in several different styles including endurance, trail and barrel versions
  • They’re very lightweight. Definitely not a working saddle.

Check out the selection of treeless saddles available in our eBay Tack Shop.

Bob Marshall Endurance
The Proponents Position
Proponents of treeless saddles claim that wood trees are rigid and don’t flex, causing soreness and restricting movement. They feel that trees also add a significant layer between the rider and horse and interfere with their communication and feel. They believe that a saddle without a tree will flex and conform to a horse’s shape and movement. With a treeless saddle they’re in closer contact with their horse and their horse moves more freely. Many proponents will share stories of how they’re horse changed for the better once they started riding a treeless saddle.

The Opponents Position
The biggest criticism of opponents of treeless saddles is that, by eliminating the bars, they’ve eliminated the main foundation and the means for evenly distributing weight over the maximum surface area of the horse’s back. The result is a saddle that tends to ride low on the gullet and put pressure on the spine. Without the structure of the bars, opponents argue that the saddle isn’t stable and tends to slip from side to side and create difficulty in mounting. While proponents tout the similarity to bareback riding, opponents point out that riding bareback (especially by less accomplished riders) is not a particularly enjoyable experience for the horse.

Bob Marshall Trail
So, which side do we fall on? Well, if you’ve spent any time exploring the Western Saddle Guide, you’ve probably noticed that we tend to lean towards the traditional side, so we’re a bit skeptical of treeless saddles.

We’re sympathetic with the many, many riders and horses out there who suffer from poor saddle fit. But we don’t believe that the problem lies with the structure of a saddle tree, but rather with the quality of that tree. The explosion of low-priced, low-quality, manufactured saddles with cookie-cutter synthetic trees has created the saddle fit problem that so many are experiencing. For some folks, a well made treeless saddle may truly provide a better solution than the low quality traditional saddles they’ve been using. But we believe a high quality traditional saddle selected for the type of horse (size and conformation) they ride, would be a better solution.

We additionally have concerns about the extent of the claims made by some treeless manufacturers. Read their literature and you’ll be led to believe that you’ve discovered the cure for every horse malady known to man. If your horse has a problem, a treeless saddle will fix it, touts the literature. Many also market treeless saddles as suitable for any horse of any age, any size, any breed, and any conformation. Common sense should tell you to steer clear of those making these types of claims.


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