On the trail with a haflinger – in a treeless saddle, of course.
One thing I’ve discovered: All treeless saddles are not made equal. Some are little more than structured bareback pads, while others have almost as much internal structure as a treed saddle. It seemed like a good idea to do a followup article sharing what I’ve discovered over the years. If you’d like to add some of your own experience with various treeless saddles and pads, feel free to comment and enrich our discussion!
But first, a few caveats:
1) I am not paid to write these reviews.
2) I currently own three treeless saddle brands but have tried a couple of others
3) I also ride in treed saddles, so I am not a “treeless ONLY!” fanatic. I think they can work really well for some horse and rider combinations; not so well for others.
4) The purpose of this article is to discuss a few specific brands/types of treeless saddles and their pros and cons. It’s not definitive and I will leave most brands out. Until saddle makers want to send me their saddles to try (anyone? anyone?), I have to work with what I have.
And on to the reviews!
ANSUR: My favorite is the Ansur saddle. I resisted buying one for several years, because they are expensive and hard to find used. I didn’t want to shell out for a new one at close to $4K. They are also hard to trial as the company does not send out demos but relies on their distributors to own their own
Ansur Excel Dressage Saddle, $3855d
demos. That said, Ansur is a very well made, good quality leather, excellent saddle. Made in America, too! It looks like a normal (treed) saddle, which is a plus for me since I show. You can jump in the Ansur jump saddle (which I also own, having found one used! Yippee!). You don’t have to use a special pad, since most of the Ansur models now come with the trauma system padding built into the saddle. Just use a normal cotton saddle pad to protect the saddle from sweat. Prices for most models run from about $3800 and up. Used ones ($2700-3400 for Excel model) are hard to find, but if you are patient, you will eventually find one on ebay or tacktrader.com. The great thing is: they fit pretty much every horse, and every horse I have tried it on likes it. Not every rider, though. The twist is moderate, the seat could be softer but is softer than many treed saddles, just firmer than most treeless (you can order it extra soft, but that’s a special order). NOTE: The seat runs LARGE! Most of the used ones you see on the market are 17.5 or 18″ because people thought they needed the room and discovered that those seats ride much bigger than that. My Ansur Excel is 16.5″ and I normally ride in a 17″ or even 17.5″ treed saddle. Look 1/2″ smaller than you normally would. http://ansursaddle.com
FREEFORM: This is a very soft, comfortable saddle for the rider. I love this saddle for trail rides, and I can use it for dressage
Freeform Elite Dressage Saddle approx. $1580
in a pinch. I do find it a bit difficult to keep my position, though, when I’m doing arena work. I have to work at it. Freeform has various models: dressage, trail, etc. I do not think you can jump (more than maybe 2′) in a Freeform saddle. What you can do is ride a long, long way: Freeform saddles have been used by endurance riders in the Tevis Cup! So you know they are comfortable for horse and rider (when used with the appropriate padding and girth). They only weigh about 7 lbs, which is SO nice for both horse and rider. Very nice, soft, Italian calf leather. Stirrup position very adjustable; various seat models can be ordered and velcroed into place, too. You can find the used if you want. Use a special treeless saddle pad. http://freeformusa.com/saddles.html
BLACK FOREST SADDLES: These are American made, inexpensive, and very, very comfortable. I bought this saddle primarily for the occasional trail ride my husband takes. He is a low-intermediate rider and has ALWAYS complained about saddles hurting his scrawny seat. NOT THIS ONE. He loves this saddle and can be in it for two hours without a murmur of complaint. I find the twist a bit wide but I do
Black Forest Aspen Saddle $899
think it is super soft and comfy, and once in awhile I’ll take it for for a trail ride. Fairly light weight, too, although not as light as the Freeform. The leather is not quite as nice as the Freeform, but it costs about half as much. For the price, it’s a great saddle. http://blackforestsaddles.com As with most treeless saddles, you must use a special pad to absorb shock and distribute pressure; they recommend and sell the excellent Grandeur pad. Buy it. It’s worth the price. It will last FOREVER and if you get the Grandeur Suspension Plus Pad it really helps stabilize the saddle on a rolypoly horse. SUPER pad. http://blackforestsaddles.com/saddle-pads/
SENSATION SADDLES: I owned one of these for a few months, and then resold it. They are super soft and comfortable and make excellent trail saddles, but I had bought it in hopes of riding dressage in it, and found that it lacked sufficient structure
Sensation-Hybrid Saddle $1450 CAD
for that. At least I found it difficult to do arena work in. But for the trail, it was wonderful. Soft, light weight (8 lbs?), very nice. One of my Western friends was convinced to buy one after seeing my English version, and since then, the knee pain she used to have while riding has completely disappeared. She’s thrilled, and I think her little Arab is thrilled to be carrying 20 lbs LESS saddle. Use a special treeless pad with this, too. Grandeur Pad is good, or Haf pad. Sensation saddles are made in Canada: https://www.nickerssaddlery.com Lots of options for customizing your ride with pretty colors, if you are so inclined!
Heather Moffett Saddles (Fhoenix or Vogue SoftTree Saddles): I’m not as familiar with these, having only ridden in one once about 8 years ago, so my review will be brief. They have a good reputation, so if you are looking for a treeless saddle, they are worthy of consideration. That said, I found the stirrup bars oddly placed and upon reading more recent reviews, I read that this was still the case for many riders. So I did not revisit them when recently shopping for saddles. I do remember the saddle being light weight and very, very comfortable, though. Horses go well in them, too. Worth considering. In the USA, you can talk to this dealer, who has years of experience riding in these saddles: http://www.justequus.com/categories/For-Horse/Tack-%26-Saddlery/Soft%252dTree-Saddles/ (By the way, she has a terrific website with lots of fun horse products, so take a look even if you’re not in a saddle shopping mood: http://www.justequus.com)
Happy Trails to you, until we meet again…