Treeless saddle. Pros/cons

As a dressage rider the fitters I’ve worked with have expressed strong reservations regarding treeless saddles. However, when reading some endurance 101 pieces I’ve seen a lot of references to treeless saddles. If anyone uses one I’d love to hear about your experience, why you made that decision, your personal pro/cons, etc.

I’d like to do more crossover work with my mare. Of course a dressage saddle that fits is fine for light trail work but I don’t find it super comfortable after a hour or so. I’m curious if a treeless endurance saddle or synthetic western could be lightweight and comfortable options for longer trail rides.

I ride/ compete in both treeless and treed saddles. A lot of studies (and people who nay-say) on treeless, don’t bother to use them or fit them properly. Like if I tried to use a screwdriver as a hammer and it didn’t work, it’s not the tools fault.
Anyway… I find treeless to be very comfy and very secure. I currently have two Bob Marshalls and a Barefoot Tahoe. I prefer the Bobs but my one mare prefers the Tahoe. I have ridden as long as 13 hours in them and never had a pressure point or soreness issue. I do spend the money on the proper pads (good treeless saddles and pads are definitely not a cheaper option than treed).

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I do trail rides up to 4 or 5 hours in my dressage saddle. I’ve had extra D rings attached for saddle bags and latigos. I’ve found for longer rides the key things are: get off to walk and stretch at least every 2 hours, vary your pace to at least do a posting trot, and my most recent discovery: keep your thigh under you, ride off your seat, and don’t brace in the stirrups even going down hill.

I don’t think I’d be more comfortable in a Western saddle at this point so I’ve stopped thinking about buying one.

It’s possible your dressage saddle doesn’t fit you well and you’d be better off with a new one. However if you like it fine for training, it makes sense to look into endurance or western saddles. I’d suggest analyzing what about your dressage saddle makes you sore. Then think about whether you are riding differently on the trails or not. A huge benefit for me of trail riding in my dressage saddle is using those hours to keep my correct posture seat and leg position.

I’ve never seen a treeless saddle that interested me IRL and I don’t think that treeless per se is the thing that’s going to determine long ride comfort. I have also been leery of the fact treeless saddles have a little less stability. I do trails with some pretty steep up and down sections, and want a saddle that doesn’t shift.

I rode full day rides in a Western saddle as a teen and it was definitely my preference over my jump AP for that. These days, for shorter trail rides (under 2 hours) where I plan to do a lot of posting trot I do often use a jump saddle but longer rides or slower rides it’s dressage. I did use a Western saddle a few years back to try cattle penning, and interestingly I really missed the contoured feel of English panels and having the leg close to the horse. It actually felt less secure in an odd way. I never trail rode in it.

I rode my mare in a treeless saddle for many years. 3-4 hour trail rides regularly. The first one I had was a barefoot Cheyenne, it was ok, but the bulky flap contributed to some knee pain and I couldn’t get it as stable as I liked. It liked to roll a bit. I sold it after a couple of years, bought a Freeform EnduroX, and found that much more to my liking. It was very stable on my horse, I felt that it had more structure to it than the barefoot did, and very little under my leg to bother my knee. My mare and I were both quite comfortable in it. It comes down to which treeless fits the horse and rider best, because they are quite different, and the rest of the equipment used. A good treeless specific pad is a must, and often adjustments to the padding are needed for the best fit.

I had initially tried treeless because my mare was young and growing, and I wasn’t interested in potentially having to find new saddles as she matured, and found that it did work well for us. It was pretty handy being able to use it fairly easily on a couple of other horses too.

I sold it recently because since having kids I’ve gotten heavier and my mare has been out of work a lot due to unrelated issues, doesn’t have the muscle she once had to support that, and isn’t likely to get it back. I probably could have handled that with a different padding setup but my friend is a rep and fitter for Specialized, and the basic shape of those saddles fits my mare very well, so I went that route instead.

Totally. The seat is very hard and the balance point isn’t perfect for me. It took 12+ saddles on trial and four fitters before finding one that worked for her. I told myself when we are ready to start schooling changes I’ll splurge on a custom. I spent almost a custom finding this one used with all of the fitting appointments and know that I have a short list of viable brands, so I’m kicking that can down the road a bit.

Since this is our saddle for the foreseeable future, I would be curious about a second saddle for trail work. Worst case I slap a sheepskin seat saver on what I have but no harm in exploring options.

Treeless has never been an option I’d considered but after finding several references on blogs and forums I was curious if it was a better option for reasons unknown to me. A treed synthetic western or endurance saddle is my preference based on my current knowledge. I’m also very open to learning and know that saddle technology continues to evolve. This mare is ultra short backed and curvy, not unlike an Arabian in build (minus the typical spring of rib). It seems like a good number of endurance riders on Arabians reference treeless saddles, which made me wonder if some of the endurance saddles were challenging to fit to those characteristics.

I’ll work with a fitter for any purchase but enjoy doing my homework and understanding what brands people like or what challenges they’ve experienced with a treeless vs treed.

I have a ‘Sensation’ treeless that I purchased for a hard to fit Morgan mare who went absolutely bonkers if you approached her with a saddle. The saddle is called the dressage trail and is completely leather, very soft and cushy. The seat is able to be changed out as well, the knee pads are velcro’d. Underneath you can add foam shims to create a gullet space. I also have the ‘special’ saddle pad that has a channel space to use with the saddle.

Once I started riding her in this she went back to her ‘sweet’ self and no more pain and violent reactions from the saddle. The down side to a treeless is the lack of stability. I used a 5 point breastplate with it at all times, I have heard of treeless saddles ending upside down on a horse. This saddle was only recommended for a horse with a back shape that has a spine lower than the muscle; i.e
not for use with a boney back.

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I have a Torsion that I generally use as my catch ride saddle, though it is currently being used on my young horse knowing his body will be changing as he matures. I also ride for some friends who use Bob Marshalls, so have been spending some miles in one while I am riding their young horse.

Personally, I find the lack of twist in a treeless saddle causes my hips to complain after a while. I added a “twist bolster” to my Torsion (basically an additional hunk of padding that goes under the front of the seat over where the stirrup bars attach) which does help, as I can tolerate more miles in that than I can the Bob Marshall comfortably.

As others have said, the pad you use is vitally important and good ones are not cheap. However, those pads are the key to both the fit and potentially the stability. Personally, I use skito pads as they seem to be the most stable. I once finished the last 18 miles of the Vermont 100 using the Torsion and a skito pad without a girth and without a breastcollar (I figured better to fall all the way clear of the horse than to be dangling around his chest if things went wrong). I needed someone to hold the off stirrup while I mounted, but once on the horse was able to w/t/c without issue. Not something I ever plan to do again, but I was pretty surprised it was even possible. :upside_down_face:

Know that treeless is not a works-for-every-horse thing no matter what the reps tell you. I know several horses who could not tolerate a treeless saddle no matter what pad was used. There are several styles of treeless saddle, so figuring out which type works best for your horse and you make take some trial and error. If you are interested in trying one, you should look into a demo program as many makers offer them.

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Short term you can try a full saddle sheepskin for your dressage. My husband and I both ride in dressage saddles for long rides and it really helps make a hard saddle soft and comfy.

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I think this is the key. Like a treed saddle it takes time to find the right one. It has to fit both the horse and the rider.

My trail rides rarely last more than two hours, so I’m not speaking from the point of view of an endurance rider or serious trail rider. Here’s my experience.

I used a Sensation trail/dressage that was custom made for my long legs. It was the only saddle I could find that fit Mr. Podgy. I tried many treed and treeless saddles before buying the Sensation. Like another poster said, you need a 5-point breastplate. Even then it’s not as stable as a PROPERLY fitted treed saddle. Also like another poster said invest in the right pad(s). This also takes some experimentation.

That said I think it would have been more comfortable for a shorter/lighter rider than myself. I’m 5’10" with long thigh bones. When I was competing my dressage boots were always catching on the bottom of the saddle panels, my lower leg below the belly of most horses. I gain and lose weight like everyone else. 160 lbs, plus or minus (often plus) :expressionless: seemed to make it a bit harder to balance than a very light rider. I also felt it somewhat a chore to post. We were both OK with the saddle and enjoyed many trail rides with no soreness afterword.

I switched back to a treed saddle when I tried a Thorowgood T 8 all purpose saddle. Originally I tried this for another hard to fit horse but thought I might as well try it on my chunky guy.

It’s a reasonably priced saddle, the seat is lovely leather but most of the saddle is a really nice synthetic very much like leather. Because it offers a lot of adjustment, girthing options and changeable gullets it fit both of us. The changeable gullets are shaped differently that the Wintec types and fit my two large shouldered horses very well. I feel very comfortable, secure and balanced in this saddle. I was over the moon when I found it fit two of my horses.

I’ve tried many treed western saddles. Personally, I’m not comfortable. I feel like I’m sitting too far back and my legs are kind of stuck. Could be the saddle fit. I’ve never tried a treeless western saddle.

:scream: Wow, how on earth did you do that in Vermont? I couldn’t do that in a dressage ring at a walk. :sweat_smile:

OP, I forgot to mention, the other saddle the Thorowgood fit is 1/4 Arab and has the short back hard to fit conformation.

I had run out of other ideas: we had tried different girths, tried different tightness/looseness, tried every lotion/ointment/powder possible to slop on, and bareback was not allowed. I really wasn’t expecting it to work, but just goes to show the universe does take care of fools! :rofl:

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