I rode in my first treeless saddle back in 2003 at a hoof trimming clinic – it was a beautiful black leather Tuend Saddle – the original Italian Treeless.
From that day on, I was determined to look further into this new type of saddle and its benefits for horses.
In the process of my research I tried and tested many of the available treeless saddles and found a huge variety of designs ranging from those that were not much more than glorified bareback pads with stirrups (dangerous to use as they slip around the horse too easily and more importantly, put far too much pressure on the backbone) to beautifully made quality leather saddles that hardly looked different to regular english or western models.
The main thing to look for in any treeless design is that the stirrup attachment which goes over the back, is broad enough to spread the weight so it doesn’t concentrate too much on one part of the backbone. The same goes for the girth attatchment.
Secondly, always use a treeless saddle pad that has a channel down the centre – they commonly have high density foam inserts either side of the backbone to give some relief for the backbone. These pads vary in thickness, according to the musculature of the horse’s back. They also help the saddle stay in place for mounting, although most treeless saddles will cope with mounting from the ground, they can slide if you have a very round or wide horse so mounting from a block is preferable.
And thirdly, be aware of that treeless saddles are mostly designed for close contact with the horse and therefore you do tend to sit a bit wider than on a regular saddle. This can be uncomfortable for people with hip or back problems after a while. Also, the stirrup attatchments are usually solid rings on the saddle so safety stirrups or toe cages must be used.
And finally, most treeless saddles can only cope with a rider weight of less than 80kg as above this, the weight compacts the saddle pad and saddle materials, putting pressure on the backbone of the horse. Also the pressure compounds when a heavier rider stands in the stirrups.
Treeless saddles are getting easier to find which is good for the consumer and hard to fit horses. They once were only available through agents or the saddle designers (and many still are) but now buyer beware as there are many cheap treeless saddles online (eg. Ebay) that will only handle light riding, and the quality of design is questionable. Prices range from $300 unmounted to upwards of $3,000 for a custom made leather treeless saddle.
The Saddle pads that go with them range from $80- $500 and short anatomical girths (like a dressage girth) start from $80 as well.
Treeless saddle designs range from the softer style padded saddles like the Barefoot, to more dressage style models such as the Ansur. Then there are western styles such as the Bob Marshall treeless (shown here) or the Huston Soft Saddle.
If you would like more information on Treeless saddles here are some web sites I found useful.