Saddle fitting lessons

After many, many saddles and endless experiences over many years with countless saddle fitters, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, through experience and often expensive mistakes.DSC03470

Lesson Number One: Your saddle is only as good as your fitter. Find a good fitter.

A beautiful saddle that doesn’t fit is like a designer shoes (bought on sale!) that just don’t fit. They stay in the closet because you’re not gonna wear them. Although in this case you might put that saddle on your poor horse, who pays the price with a sore back. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Do everything you can do get it right. Get professional help. No, not therapy – a saddle fitter!

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Kristen of Saddle Solutions measures Starlight’s withers

But HOW do I find a good saddle fitter? Get recommendations from savvy (experienced) friends or trainers you trust. Beware that many people are very blind in this area  or have limited expertise. Ask around widely. If you keep hearing a certain name repeated as a good Fitter, then that’s probably your person. Check out their training and give them a try.

Lesson Number Two: An Independent saddle fitter is usually better for your purposes than one whose main agenda is selling a certain brand of saddles. Unless you are certain that you only ever want that one brand of saddle.

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Kristen from Saddle Solutions educates me about saddle fit.

Experience, Expertise, and Integrity are the most important qualities you want in a saddle fitter. Professionalism and reliability are nice to have, too! If the only one that fits those criteria who will come  to your area is the rep for a certain brand, you may have to use them. They will most likely be willing to work on other brands (ask); just be aware that their agenda is often to sell you one of their saddles, but it may not be the best fitting saddle for you or your horse because their product line is limited. This is why an independent fitter, whose only agenda is to fit you and your horse, is a better bet. He or she can recommend saddles/brands and/or objectively assess and fit what you already have.

Today Starlight and I enjoyed a fitting with Kristen Vliestra of Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com). Kristen is an independent saddle fitter with many years in the business and her deep knowledge and expertise were very helpful in finding a good fit for me and Star.DSC03482

Below, Kristen demonstrates with chalk the proper weight bearing surface on Star’s back. She helped me to understand WHY this is all so important. If we don’t get this right, we will cause our horses pain and possible long-term damage to the musculature and spine. It also causes discomfort (back or fork pain) for the rider as the saddle is off-balance and we’re put out of position.DSC03490

In the video below, Kristen explains this clearly…

And here you see us trying a saddle that turned out to be a good fit for both of us. It has not yet been flocked to Star, so the balance is not quite right yet: It is a little low behind.  Later, Kristen took care of that. If you felt under the panels, you would feel nice smooth contact (no bridging!), no pressure points, which makes Star happy. As for me: I sat down in it and said, “ah, nice comfy saddle,” which is exactly what it ought to be.

Life is too short for your saddle to hurt you…or your horse! Invest in building a relationship with a good fitter!*

*If you’re within driving distance of San Jose, I recommend Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com).

Saddle Fitting Fun and Games

Star and I are in the midst of saddle shopping. Our friend, Carolyn, has been helping us by doing wither tracings so that we can order saddles sent to us for trial and have a chance that they might actually fit.

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Starlight’s back labeled for a “wither tracing.”

What’s been amazing has been how fast Star is changing! We did a tracing on 3/20/16, and another one on 4/14/16, and she was substantially different in the withers. The first two weeks I rode her in a saddle that turned out to be a bit too narrow; when I realized it wasn’t working  I borrowed an Ansur treeless saddle while I started shopping for something that fits us both. Ah, happier horse!

I will soon transition back to a treed saddle because she’s VERY wide and I need a tree to get me up above her back a little so that my hips and back don’t get sore. The Ansur has been very useful for this interim time, but on such a wide horse it’s not great for me long term.  I’m looking at lots of options and I THINK I’ve just about got it solved. SOON, I hope!

Below we see the results of a more comfortable back and regular dressage work: muscles that are visibly and measurably changing.

Some pictures to illustrate:

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Starlight on 3/20/16 , after 3 weeks with Edie. Still has some bleached winter coat.

In the next picture, not only has Starlight’s coat changed, but look how her weight and muscles are changing! A mere four weeks more of regular dressage work, including once a week trot poles (which she loves) is making a difference. While it takes many months – years even – to build the strength for true collection,  Starlight is learning to carry herself.

The shine is from daily grooming, Platinum Performance, and Chia Seed. Yes, she is doted upon and considers it the way things ought to be.

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Starlight on 4/14/16. What a difference a month makes!

It takes a village to raise a horse. My friend Carolyn helps me with wither tracings, calls dressage tests at shows, and is a sounding board and source of ideas and insight. She loves sensitive mares like Starlight and they were immediate friends.

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Girlfriends.

 

Saddle shopping trials

Does anyone out there ENJOY saddle shopping? I’m not talking about idly clicking through the gorgeous gleaming images of new saddles, imagining yourself riding oh-so-much-better because now you have the perfect saddle. Of course if I have the saddle of XYZ Olympian I will ride like him or her! I will look like this and my horse will also be transformed:

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Or sometimes my Diva side comes out and I am attracted to the blingy fancy saddles. Oh, I’m not going to buy one, but gosh, they are pretty, aren’t they?

 

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Yeah, I kinda want one, I admit it. But I know my trainer would kill me. Not to mention my husband.

Meanwhile, what to do? Well, the only saddle I own, a wonderful and comfortable Lemke dressage saddle, does not fit my new horse, Starlight. Tragedy! That saddle is so comfortable. So I am riding in a borrowed Ansur dressage saddle, which is a flexible tree so it fits (almost) anything. It’s a  Godsend and my mare really likes it, but she’s wide, so my hips don’t like it on such a wide horse.

I need a saddle wide enough for her, but with a narrow twist for me, and that will require a tree. It’s possible, but it is not easy.

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The Wow Competitor Dressage Saddle

Enter the WOW saddle, a modular saddle which I am explorin. I have just tried their basic model (the Classique), which my horse LOVED but I wanted a different seat. Loved the narrow twist but the seat didn’t quite work for my seat bones (not soft enough). So now I will try a custom assembled WOW with different seat, flaps, knee rolls, etc. Since these are modular saddles, a custom one can be assembled in just a couple of days and shipped to me to try.

If you are interested in information about the WOW, which is really a different concept for a saddle, here is the website:  http://www.wowsaddles.com. I’ll have another review of it after I ride in it more, but my first ride did impress me and my horse and I had an initial “WOW” experience. Unfortunately, they are expensive new and though they’ve been in Britain for years, they are fairly new here so they’re difficult to find used. That’s the bad news.IMG_0124.JPG

Here is Starlight, modeling the WOW Classique. Note the lovely sock protective covers for the stirrup leathers (keeps the leathers from damaging the demo saddle). Star’s coat is improving but is still changing from sun-bleached to black/brown as she sheds her winter coat. One month into our work together, you can see the muscling in her neck and topline beginning to develop, but it takes years to build the muscle needed for dressage so this will be a slow and careful process. This is a wonderful mare and I love working with her.

Our next demo saddle will be the WOW Competitor. Let’s hope it’s “the one” and I can stop spending hours on the computer looking at saddles and researching saddles and wondering if this saddle or that saddle MIGHT work…

 

 

Horses don’t lie

If your horse starts swinging its butt away at the mounting block and fidgeting when you try to mount, could it be telling you something?

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If only we would pay attention…

Or maybe the horse is rushing under saddle, bracing, has an under neck muscle, has difficulty coming onto contact especially through transitions or in lateral movements. Do you think saddle fit MIGHT be the problem?

I’ve only had Starlight a couple of weeks, but I was having all of the above issues and trying to figure out how to solve them. If I’d known her better, I would have diagnosed saddle fit faster, but 10 days into it, I realized it might be the saddle. I borrowed a flex-tree saddle (The Ansur Saddle) from a friend, and what an immediate difference! Happy horse!  Bending, flexing, no problem!

Unfortunately, this can’t be the long term solution for us because Starlight is such a wide backed mare that the Ansur becomes too wide on her for my hips to be comfortable. However, it’s a workable interim solution.

Moral of the story: if the horse is acting weird or giving you a problem, look first for pain. 

Horses are honest and they don’t lie or plot ways to make our lives difficult. They live in the moment and just tell us what they are feeling. We owe it to them to pay attention and do our best to make their working lives comfortable and rewarding.

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Starlight: much happier in the Ansur saddle. Too bad about the ugly water truck in the background. Strange color as she sheds out her bleached winter coat.

No back, no rider: take care of your back

I began to trot but had gone only once  around the arena when a sharp sudden pain in my back said: STOP RIGHT NOW OR ELSE! I halted my mare and collapsed onto her neck, panting in pain and wondering what to do. Sweet Eliana turned to look at me, soft eyes wondering, “wow, what is the matter with you? I need to take care of you.”

Ellie took care of me

Ellie took care of me

We very slowly and gently made our way back to the barn, where I gently slid to the ground, trying not to moan. I leaned onto her, steadying myself, and tried to figure out how I was going to get the tack off her. I could hardly move, and I whimpered quietly as I dragged the tack off and put it away. No way could I pick up her feet to clean them. Sorry, pony. It was all I could do to crawl to the car, lower myself into the seat, and drive home.

What happened? My back had been bothering me a bit for some weeks, feeling a little stiff and sore here and there. Big deal, it has done that for years. That day I fidgeted a bit as I rode, trying to find ways to be comfortable. It sure was not feeling right. Was it the 50 lb bag of pellets I had lifted a few days before? The sudden sideways spooks my young and reactive other horse had been doing for the last three months? Too much sitting and not enough core strength? Whatever it was, it was not feeling good. I had already ridden the spooky horse that morning before I got on my mare, and I knew my back was hurting, but I had another horse to exercise. Never give up, never surrender, right? So I popped two Ibuprofen, got in the car, and drove to the barn. What an idiot.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from this painful episode of back pain it is this: LISTEN to your body. If you don’t listen when it whispers, it will start to whine, and after that…it will scream. And then you will pay: with interest.

I kept riding rather than resting my back, IGNORING the pain, until my back said, “that’s it, I’m done with you!” The muscles spasmed and locked the whole thing up in order to prevent more damage. If you haven’t had this happen, believe me when I say that this really, really hurts. Often our bodies are smarter than our brains. Because it now hurt badly enough that I could not even drive a car, much less ride,  I finally took care of i!  I went to a doctor, who prescribed at least two weeks of NO riding, lots of ice/heat/ibuprofen and rest plus daily walking. After that, core strengthening, exercise, and stretching.

A strong core stabilizes the spine and protects it. Riding, especially concussive activities like jumping, major transitions, or the sitting trot, can stress or injure the back.

Horse care involves many  back intensive things  – heaving (twisting) saddles about, bags of feed, bending over to pick up feet, dealing with 1000 lb animals who may move suddenly in surprising directions – and often do, as we know. Since this back injury, I’ve made some changes in the way I do things and, thankfully, have not been “grounded” since.

I should be bending my knees, not locking them as in this picture here….

I should be bending my knees, not locking them as in this picture here….

I don’t want you to ever experience what I did, so here are some Back Protecting Habits for every rider:

1) Consider yourself an athlete and condition for riding! If you can’t ride daily, be sure to get aerobic exercise and to build core strength. In addition to riding, cross train: walk, run, swim, garden, play tennis. I use a Body Blade to build my core and upper body strength. http://www.bodyblade.com/en/ It’s weird looking, but it works.

2) Stretch! I always though stretching was such a boring waste of time, but I have become a convert. This book, http://www.amazon.com/The-Riders-Pain-Free-Back-Overcome/dp/1570763712, not only explains causes and prevention of Rider's pain free backrider back pain, but gives stretching exercises, too. Since I began daily stretching, I am a much more supple rider and I have much less back pain. Voila.

3) Check that the saddle fits YOU as well as your horse. A saddle that hurts you or is just too wide for you (or too small) will throw you off balance and cause you to brace to avoid pain. So will a saddle that is down in front, which forces you to arch your back to keep your balance. Equipment really does make a big difference to you and the horse, because riding is largely about balance. A saddle that forces you to fight for your balance is not helping you and may contribute to back strain. Get that saddle properly fitted. Insist on it!

4) Post the trot rather than sit, and if you have a choice, choose smooth gaited horses. Sure, those big flashy gaits look impressive if you’re going to show, but they are hard to sit and hard on the back. Consider the wear and tear on your body as you are looking for a horse. If you already own a bouncy horse, well…do what you can to protect your back but if you really have back problems, you may eventually need to find a smoother gaited horse.

5) Use anti-inflammatory aids such as ice and heat judiciously. Do not take lots of Ibuprofen unless prescribed by your physician as it can be damaging if taken long term. Instead, use ice when you’ve irritated your back, alternating with heat. I find the Back on Track back brace (Left) helps amazingly. It back on track braceis comfortable and unobtrusive to wear and seems to really speed recovery. I always reach for it when my back feels achey. You can even ride in it because it is flexible. http://www.backontrackproducts.com/People-Products/Back-Braces-Neck-Covers/Back-Brace-p303.html

6) Most importantly, LISTEN to your body and accommodate it. Now when my body says, “you’ve been overdoing it, cut back a little,” I do. Instead of jumping, I take a trail ride (less impact and jarring). I don’t pick up 50 lb bags of feed any more. I do sit the trot, but not endlessly (better for my horse, anyway). Use common sense and protect your back.

There’s an old saying:  “no foot, no horse.”

You could add to that, “no back, no rider.”

Protect your back and you’ll be riding for many more years! to come!

Finn and Edie - yep, sitting the trot.

Finn and Edie – yep, sitting the trot.

Does my saddle have to hurt me?

Ideally, your saddle should give you the support you want without hindering or constricting you. And it should not hurt either you or the horse! This is harder to achieve than you would think.

Ideally, your saddle should give you the support you want without hindering or constricting you. And it should not hurt either you or the horse! This is harder to achieve than you would think.

Maybe it’s part of getting older, but about a year ago I suddenly decided I was done with having saddles that hurt me. “There has to be a way,” I thought, “to find a saddle that fits both me AND the horse!”

Oh yes, I had tried the custom made saddle route. Don’t get me started. No really, just don’t. Instead, I’ll just say that after much suffering and spending lots of time, money, and effort, I DID find two saddles (not custom made) that fit both me and my horse comfortably, and we are living happily ever after (so far). Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the past 10 years and, oh, probably 10 different saddles I’ve bought and sold (don’t even ask how many I tried)…In my defense, there have been a number of different horses, and there were jumping, trail, and dressage saddles involved. Oh yes, I have far too much experience in this area.

So let’s talk about rider fit. Some things to consider when saddle shopping:

  • Seat size measurement varies between saddle brands and models. There is no real standardization, although there is a “standard” way to measure seats. I am not always a “17” in every saddle, just as I don’t always wear a size 8 pants.  It’s not about weight per se, although of course the size of one’s posterior does make some difference.

Important to saddle seat fit are the length of the rider’s femur, the depth of the saddle’s seat, the rise of the pommel, the twist (see below), and the amount of room you personally like to have. All these will determine what size will feel comfortable to you, and no one can tell you this ahead of time although they may guess based on your height and weight. 

  • Flap length – determined usually by the length of your femur (thigh bone) and how short you like your stirrups.
  • Forward or straight flap – think about getting a more forward flap if you tend to ride with shorter stirrups – either dressage or jumping – or your knee may tend to go over the front of the flap. Very annoying. Even some dressage saddles can be bought with slightly forward flaps.
  • Depth of seat – a personal preference but I laugh when some people say, “I only like open seats.” Ha! I say “Ha! Ha” because I too used to say that, but my present saddle is very deep and soft and I love it. Keep an open mind and see what works. You may change your mind over time, especially as your riding style – or your horse – changes.
  • Twist –  Many women prefer a more narrow twist so that they can keep their knee rotated in. You can see the Twist indicated by the yellow lines in the picture at Right. A wider twist may make it hard to get your leg around the horse and Saddle Twistyour toes will tend to turn out. On the other hand, a wider twist might feel just right to you. Believe me: the twist matters. A lot.

Fit determines comfort, but a saddle could fit your dimensions (leg length, seat size) and still not feel comfortable to you when you ride in it. Passively sitting in the saddle at a trade show or in a shop will not do it, because a saddle in motion feels different than a saddle sitting on a saddle stand.

You MUST ride in the saddle before buying it! Don’t let anyone – saddle fitter, friend, salesperson – talk you into buying a saddle model that you have not ridden in unless they will take it back unconditionally if you don’t like it after you’ve tried it.

In addition to the Twist, the Flap, and other measurements, saddles also vary in how WIDE they are in the seat (the part where your bottom rests), and how much and what kind of padding the seat contains. This heavily influences rider comfort. Some of us have sharp pointy seat bones (yes, I confess, I’m one of them), and we have endured a lot of soreness over the years.  Not only calluses but boils, sores, ’nuff said.  I’ve had saddle fitters half-jokingly suggest I have surgery to get my seat bones filed down (they are that sharp – and no, I am not thin); trainers suggest that if I continually grip with my buttock muscles to try and put a pad of muscle under the seat bone, then maybe they won’t hurt. Hmmm…wow, that is just too much work and my horse is not happy with all that tension.

I’m here to tell you that you do not have to put up with sore and painful seat bones any more (preach it, sister!). There are saddles out there that WILL NOT HURT.

In my case, the solution was a narrow twist and a wide, softly padded seat for the pointy seat bones. Some saddles that I tried had seams that were placed exactly where my seat bones rested: OUCH. Major pain. I had to find a saddle that was wide enough that my seat bones stayed on padding not on hard seams. Three children, you know….wide seat bones, I guess. But this is why each of us must try the saddle ourselves. What I like and what you like will probably be different because our skeletal structure may be different. Saddles that felt good to sit in did not work once I trotted and cantered. They might still be soft, but maybe they were slippery or too wide in the twist, forcing me to grip in order to stay with the horse. Complicated? Yep. Got to actually ride in the saddle.

This is why my friends and I refer to it as “saddle shopping hell.” You may want to jump off a saddle hellcliff before you’re done, but persevere. Great saddles do exist!

How do I find this perfect saddle, that will fit me in the leg and seat, allow me to perfectly communicate with my horse, AND (of course!) fit my horse, too? We’ll address the horse fitting side in another article, but here are some ideas on how to find a comfortable saddle for YOU.

  1. Work with a competent, experienced saddle fitter who represents a brand that works for your horse. IF you have such a person in your area, treasure them. They will help you find the right saddle and then keep it fitted as needed. Bless them. Sadly, really good saddle fitters are few and far between. I must issue the warning caveat that far too many saddle representatives are much more interested in selling saddles then in truly fitting you or your horse with the right saddle. Ever tried on something at the store that looked ridiculous on you, and the saleslady is gushing, “oh that looks adorable on you!” (Yeah, right, you think. You can’t fool me. That is not my color.) Unfortunately, some sales reps are those sales ladies. They don’t care how it looks or fits, they just want to sell it. How to find a good rep or fitter? Ask around. Ask your friends, trainer (be advised that some trainers get kick backs from sales), check yelp reviews, etc.  The word gets around on good and bad fitters and reps. NOTE: ask more than one person, and be sure they’ve had their saddle for awhile. If they just bought it, they might be still be in the honeymoon phase. Try to find someone who has lived with these saddles for awhile. Ask for references, if need be. NOTE: The Society of Master Saddle Fitters certification does NOT guarantee that the saddle fitter is knowledgeable, competent, or honest. Certification consists of a two week course (http://www.mastersaddlers.com/courses.htm) that must be completed.  Clearly, some useful knowledge is acquired, but whether they can APPLY that knowledge to real life varies considerably. Saddle fitting is an art as well as a science, and some people can do it, while others are just not very competent, regardless of their certification. Ask around.

  2. If you are an experienced saddle buyer (and know how to check saddle fit yourself), there are some great used saddle sites out there and you can save a lot of money buying used! Three that I’ve worked with and had excellent service from are: https://www.fine-used-saddles.com/saddles/pc/home.asp (top quality inventory, very knowledgeable, will help you figure out what you need if you ask for help); http://www.yoursaddles.com (excellent inventory, also very knowledgeable and helpful; shipping is less expensive); http://www.frenchusedsaddles.com (just bought my jumping saddle from them, and everything was great. Limited number of brands, but beautiful saddles and competitive prices, free outbound shipping and a generous one week trial). There are many others, but I haven’t worked with them so I can’t vouch for them. Of course you can also try private sellers, but you often cannot work out trials with them, so you have to know exactly what you want. If you’ve had the chance to try the saddle (maybe someone in your barn owns it) and you KNOW it will work for you, then by all means buy it without a trial. Otherwise: buyer beware.

  3. Consider treeless saddles. If treeless saddles are new to you, recognize that they have come a long way and some of them can be used without a special pad and are visually almost indistinguishable from a treed saddle. The benefit of treeless is that you don’t need a professional saddle fitter (ever! the saddle flexes and adjusts to changes in the horse). The treeless company can advise you on sizing, and if your horse goes well in it and you like it: success! Read my articles on “why I sometimes ride treeless” and “treeless saddle reviews” for some pointers.


Curious about what ended up working for my pointy seat bones, and also fit my round barreled, low withered New Forest Pony? Finn does dressage in a 16.5″ Lemke Dressage Saddle (Angel Model). Softest, most comfy saddle ever (really!), and it helps my leg fall in a very correct position, while giving me nice support. I can sit Finn’s big bouncy extended gaits in this saddle. http://www.lemkesaddle.com You can see Finn wearing it in the short video in the article, “Now we Piaffe!”

Voltaire Palm Beach jump saddle

Voltaire Palm Beach jump saddle

For jumping, we found a lightly used 17.5″ Voltaire Palm Beach. This saddle is very minimalist in structure, light weight with small knee rolls and very close contact in the flaps. Very secure over fences and a very soft seat. Great saddle and works well for both of us. Good for short backed horses, too!

Finn in his Lemke dressage saddle, getting ready for the Piaffe Clinic

Finn in his Lemke dressage saddle, getting ready for the Piaffe Clinic

Why I sometimes ride Treeless

Treeless saddles have their fanatical fans and their equally fanatical enemies. As usual, I try to be the voice of reason and practical experience in the middle. Let’s begin by admitting that:

No one size fits all when it comes to saddles. Horses and riders have a wide range of

Ellie in her Ansur Excel treeless saddle, Dressage schooling show. Nice square halt at G.

Ellie in her Ansur Excel treeless saddle, Dressage schooling show. Nice square halt at G.

conformations and thus we need different types of saddles.

As we think about saddles, a few questions come to mind.

1) Is a solid tree is required to distribute the rider’s weight? Many will cite Dr. Hillary Clayton’s study on pressure, while others will refute it saying that she did not use the right kind of treeless saddles and pads. To quote from Dr. Clayton’s article, “it should also be noted that the (treeless) saddles in our research study were used without pads (italics added), which is a necessary first step in understanding how the rider’s weight is transmitted through the saddle. Because treeless saddles would normally be used with a pad to assist in force dissipation, a logical next step would be to evaluate the performance of different types of pads used in combination with a treeless saddle (italics added).” NOTE: Most treeless saddles REQUIRE that you use a specially designed pad to dissipate the force, so testing treeless saddles without it was pointless. No one rides in a treeless saddle without the right padding – it’s like using a saddle without a girth. Just doesn’t work.

Here is an informative article on pressure from saddles, girths, and pads: http://www.equitationscience.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Science-in-the-saddle-Nov13.pdf

2) Do treeless saddles work for all horses and riders? While I like going treeless because it eliminates the need for saddle fitters and in my experience my horses prefer it, some horses and riders do better with a solid tree. Most treeless companies limit their saddles to 180 lbs or less because the weight of a heavier rider is better distributed by a solid tree. I ride one of my horses treeless, and the other in a treed saddle. Why? While they both like the treeless (Ansur) saddle, my dressage horse’s trot is very bouncy and I found I just couldn’t sit his medium and extended trot without a tree to stabilize me a bit better. In the treeless, I bounced too much. He does occasionally get to go Treeless on the trail.

3) Aren’t treeless saddles unstable? True, they are not as stable as treed saddles, although it does depend on the brand,

your horse’s conformation, and your saddle pad. A treed saddle lightly enfolds the withers – depending on the length of the tree points, some of them “grip” more than others, but a treeless saddle is flexible. This means you CANNOT mount from the

Ellie jumping in her Ansur Elite treeless saddle

Ellie jumping in her Ansur Elite treeless saddle

ground or the saddle will spin. You must use a mounting block (better for your horse’s back anyway!). Similarly, if you lean WAY over (to grab something off the rail, or because you are not a balanced rider) your saddle may slip. Nonslip pads help, of course, but I have had the occasional mishap because my ponies are round and low withered. That said, I’ve ridden in treeless saddles for about 4 years – dressage (shown 3rd level), jumped (3′), all kinds of trails, and only had the saddle turn a handful of times out of hundreds of rides. Since then I’ve added mohair girths for grip, a breastplate when jumping, and I’m more careful about things like leaning waaaaaaaay over to grab my jacket off the rail.

4) Why should I consider a treeless saddle? Comfort. Most of them are so comfortable for you (no sore seat bones!), and comfortable for your horse. My horses move beautifully in the Ansur Excel saddle, very freely through the back and shoulder. They jump beautifully in the Ansur Elite, too. (Full disclosure here: I am technically an Ansur distributor, but I never have actually sold any new saddles since I always end up recommending that people try to find them used to save a little money). I prefer Ansur to any other treeless brand because you can use an ordinary saddle pad. The special weight distributing shock system is built right into the saddle, and it looks like a normal saddle so it’s easy to show in it. I also own a very comfortable Freeform Saddle which I enjoy for trails (winners of the Tevis Cup endurance race have used Freeform), and a Black Forest Aspen (super comfy, but a wide twist), which my husband uses occasionally for a trail ride.

5) Won’t I miss my saddle fitter if I go treeless? I don’t think so, unless you really like spending the money on saddle fittings.  Treeless saddles flex as the horse changes his muscling or weight. No saddle fitter needed.

6) Should everyone go treeless? Nope. Some people feel more secure with a treed saddle. You should be a fairly balanced,

secure rider; not too heavy; and get a trial period to test it out. Your horse will feel different, like changing from dress shoes to tennis shoes.

Happy riding, everyone, whatever saddle you ride in!