A friend of mine who also boards her horses at Benvelle owns a small Arabian and a significantly larger Friesan. After the young Friesan was first trained to ride, Karen needed a saddle for him as he was already much bigger than her Arabian and her current saddle didn’t fit him. She was leery of buying anything at first...she knew that Vinny was still growing and would continue to grow for a few years yet. As all of us who own horses – and their accompanying tack – know, it would be very expensive to have to change saddles every couple of years, since it's important to have a saddle which correctly fits a horse.
Karen had heard of treeless saddles and decided to look into them and after a lot of research and trying different kinds, she bought one, uses it, and highly recommends it. In fact, after listening to Karen talk about her saddle, I told another friend about it – that friend took her horse to Benvelle to try Karen’s saddle and ended up buying one, too!
Sue had a different situation with her horse than Karen. Sue’s horse, Brandy, is a large, muscular Quarterhorse with very rounded withers and even an extra-wide western saddle was too tight. The treeless saddles are very light, averaging about 10 pounds, soft and flexible, adjusting to the horse’s back. They provide close contact with the horse and they minimize interference with the horse’s shoulder movement and, therefore, his gait. The saddles are designed to fit any horse’s back in comfort. As these saddles are somewhat along the line of a bareback pad (although much more substantial), it is recommended by many to use a breastplate with them to keep them from shifting to the side.
I looked online to see the different brands and styles, and there are many. They can be found in western, english and dressage styles; black or brown in color – with some being two-toned – and generally run under $1,000 in price. Karen had tried out a couple of different brands before settling on the Barefoot Saddle which she felt was superior to the others and less expensive.
There was only one brand of treeless saddle that comes with a disclaimer. The Sensation treeless saddle is not recommended for riders over 200 pounds, or those who are green riders and depend on the saddle to keep their balance and stay on the horse. It also isn’t recommended for high-withered horses or slant-backed horses.
If you are having trouble getting a saddle to fit your horse, a treeless might be the answer:
"The treeless saddle has worked great for me in that I have two horses and that each can wear it; simply, the beauty is that there is no tree! There is no pinching, restricting or irritation of a tree that does not fit the horse, whether he be large, small, wide, narrow, short backed, muscular or not. It can accomodate a growing horse or one whose body changes with the season depending on his work. My saddle is an English style, offering a good amount of security with a pommel, cantle and knee rolls. Added benefits are that it is very lightweight, less expensive than treed saddles and comfortable!" -- Karen
"The treeless design does not have a gullet, so a horse with a spine visible above the back muscles will need a pad with a gullet to prevent the rider's weight from impacting his spine. A Quarter Horse or Morgan type, with a spine below the level of the muscles--the sort of horse that collects rain down the center of his back--does not need a special pad. The muscles themselves act like a gullet, which keep the saddle (and the rider) off the spine. -- from Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit by Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS