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We hope you will find this next section useful.

A saddle fitting questionnaire is available on request. If you would like a consultation to work out which type of flexible saddle, saddlepad and inserts are most suitable for your situation please email me and request our saddle fit questionnaire. We draw on 11 years of fitting flexible saddles full time and are familiar with most brands of treeless and flexible saddles on the world market. What may be the most suitable set up for you, may or may not be available from our shop, if we don't have what you need, we will pass you on to the appropriate dealer. Please note that people interested in saddles we have in the shop will enjoy preference over people wanting to pick our brains re other brands of treeless saddles when we are busy.



A saddle without a tree? How can this work?

The soft structure and flexibility of good quality treeless and flexible saddles enables the horse to move without losing its natural grace, allowing full ‘range of movement’ while carrying the rider. The rider is placed right behind the wither therefore avoiding pressure on the loins while allowing full range of movement of the shoulder blades. This way the riders weight is carried without causing pain, discomfort and damage to the horse's body provided there is no direct pressure on the horse's spine.
No saddle should put pressure on the horse's moving scapular nor should it load the horses loin area behind the last rib (T 18) The area on the horse's back equipped to carry us comfortably is in fact a lot smaller than most of us think. This is particularly true if you own a horse that is short in the back. The further we move our balance point away from the horse's center of gravity the more likely it is that saddlefit related soundness problems will occur. Soft structured treeless/flexible saddles due to their flexibility wrap the riders weight around the horses center of gravity rather than to spread the riders weight over the long back muscles parrallel to the spine. Saddles with decent panels will transfer your weight in a very similar manner to a traditional saddle, meaning under the panels.

Treeless saddles are available in different styles and various construction details

A truly flexible saddle can be flexed in all directions. They are usually an 'easy fit' and it is possible that one saddle can be adjusted to fit all your horses. Some treeless saddles do not have any inbuilt spinal clearance. These saddles rely solely on the saddlepad and inserts to generate spinal clearance, we do not recommend these saddles for horses with higher or long withers or missing topline but they can be a great choice for lower withered well muscled horses.

Horses not suited to saddles without built in spinal clearance can be fitted with flexible saddles that have built in spinal clearance via fixed or velcro panels, there is a variety of brands available. Some brands offer a variety of panel choices to achieve a perfect fit.

Lateral Stability on round horses

Provided you have girthed up firmly as recommended a number of treeless saddles don't slip on horses that tend to be rounded and without prominent withers as long as you avoid 'synthetic fleece material'. We find the HAF and Christ pad give the most lateral stability on round low withered horses under these saddles. Slippage between saddle and saddlepad can easily be overcome by using a piece of shelfliner between saddle and pad. Saddles with rigid pommel or thicker panels are usually more stable on round horses than saddles with flexi pommel and/or no or only thin panels. Despite this, we still recommend that a mounting aid is used whenever possible.

We find the leather tree saddles i.e. Hidalgo, more stable on round horses than most other brands of treeless saddles.

Please note: mounting aids are just as important with a conventional saddle if not more so. The slower you mount and the heavier you are the more it hurts your horse when you mount from the ground. For more info on this topic have a look at Dr Ian Bistrup's article in the October 05 Hoofbeats magazine.

Doesn’t this mean that I end up sitting on the vertebrae (spine) of the horse?

The seat bones of the rider are naturally positioned to the left and right of the horse’s spinous processes and not on top. Additionally, the cushioned saddle sitting area plus the therapeutic saddlepad and/or the panels of the saddles protect both horse and rider from pressure points. Treeless saddles have been used by endurance riders for around 20 years in Europe and the US. You can trust that it is in fact a myth that we need lots of clearance over the horses spine, as long as there is no direct pressure on the dorsal processes no harm is done. Rule of thumb is the firmer the structure of a saddle the more inportant is spinal clearance. Thermal imaging and high tech pressure tests have shown that there is no pressure directly on the spine provided they are used and set up as recommended. However, if you feel your horse's spine under your bum, your horse will feel you too! this is to be avoided unless you ride in a bareback pad for short duration only.

The treeless riding feel - who benefits from it?

The experience of sitting in a soft structured treeless saddle like the Christ fursaddles, Barefoot, Blackforest or saddle of similar look and construction is similar to bareback riding, only more comfortable and safer in that the rider is supported by the front and rear raised parts of the saddle and fenders or stirrup leathers are usually attached, but they are removable. You sit 'wide' in these saddles which can be an issue for riders with impaired hipjoints especially if they ride a flatbacked horse with wide sprung ribs. These saddles give minimal seat support to the rider and require core strength/ a person who is riding fit. This is welcomed by balanced riders and those prepared to work on their balance. However if you lack of core strength, have a lordosis, have balance issues due to pathology or if are an aging rider - you are probably are better of with a saddle that offers more structural seat suppor and a decent twist (saddle is narrowed between riders seatbones and the seat has a rise towards the front) This usually entails choosing a saddle with a different structure and a feel that mirrors a treed saddle more closely like the Hidalgo. There are several brands of flexible and treeless saddles in this category, suitability depends as usual on the horse's conformation, age, rider weight, experience and discipline of riding.

Would a treeless saddle be a good choice for me? and if so which one and how would it have to be set up?

Treeless and flexible saddles are suitable for most types of riding. We have worked out a questionnaire which gives us sufficient information to fit a saddle perfectly to you and your horse. We usually ask for two additional photo's: one side on straight showing the whole horse close up and one photo taken from behind the horses rump showing the withers, shoulders and back from above. Please click on this link to email us for a free fitting consultation.

Provided you have a well fitting set up, treeless riding is the most comfortable way to be on a horse, more comfy for your horse than riding bareback and once you have ridden in one for a while you will be surprised how uncomfortable, hard and rigid your former favourite traditional saddle now feels.


Are there restrictions to the use of the saddles and accessories?

1. Any treeless/flexible saddle with only thin panels or no panels, should only be used with a special additional pressure-absorbing underlay at all times if stirrups are attached. This underlay needs to have top quality shock absorption, a contoured shape allowing for the horses wither, it needs to create a channel over the spine and it has to be made from a breathing skin friendly material. Generally our policy is that we will not sell a saddle on its own unless you already own a treeless pad and inserts that we consider suitable for your horse, rider weight and discipline of riding. The harder you work your horse the better the padding needs to be, therefore we offer top of the range therapeutic saddle pads and a variety of inserts for different applications. If other dealers claim you do not need one of those pads with a treeless saddle of similar construction to the Freeform or Barefoot you may choose to believe them to save money but you will do so at expense of your horse's comfort. Flexible saddles that do not require a proper treeless pad have thick large panels either built in or attached via Velcro and they will be filled with a material that will not compact down much with the riders weight in the saddle.

2. Riders weighing over 75 kg and all endurance riders will require an additional layer of padding in our saddle pads when used under a soft structured treeless saddle. The use of the a Physio pad or a double-padded HAF or Christ pad are also recommended to anyone who spends long hours in the saddle. Most manufacturers prefer to advertise their saddles as being suitable for any weight of rider, this does not match our experience! Horse Connections recommends soft structured treeless saddles alla Barefoot, Blackforest, T sion, Tuend, Sensation etc for pleasure riders up to 90 kg's and for light & middleweight weight endurance riders only. The Freeform and Freemax saddles have been used successfully by pleasure and endurance riders in all weight classes, provided your horse is low withered and well muscled and you use the right saddlepad and inserts underneath. We do have concerns regarding the foam in the FF and FM saddles breaking down over time, if that happens they can not be repaired. Spinal clearance can be an issue with these saddles also.

3. Soft structured treeless saddles are not suitable for show jumping or cross country, occasional jumping up to a meter is fine, please beware of the pommel or horn when you do. In some of the well made flexible saddles with more structure, you can jump higher and regularly.

4. We do not have a narrow twist with the soft structured saddles (Barefoot, Blackforest, T rsion, Tuend etc therefore you end up sitting wider than bareback on your horse due to the padding of and under the saddle.

5. Beginner riders would be well advised to take riding lessons with a good instructor, it is simply fairer on the horse and a lot safer for the rider. Dressage is the foundation to any style of riding, so it is the best place to start. Beware of instructors who will ask you to nag your horse rather than to help you to improve your balance, aids and timing re release of pressure. Generally we find the best instructors have a back ground in classical dressage or centred riding techniques. The treeless saddles can be a wonderful training aid in learning a very good seat and to teach you sensitivity to your horses movement. You will have a definite advantage in these saddles due to the close contact and you will therefore learn faster than in a treed saddle. You are not held in a position but will learn to carry your own bodyweight in a balanced way which your present and future horses will appreciate.

6. We recommend the use of a well fitting breastplate with all of our saddles and in fact believe they should be used with any saddle especially for hill work. A breastplate will stop your saddle slipping sideways or back in hilly terrain and works like a safety belt in case you are riding with a loose girth. Terrible accidents with all sorts of saddles could have been prevented if only the rider had remembered to put that breastplate on. To ride endurance without breastplate means asking for trouble and there are discussions going on to make the use of them compulsory.

I ride endurance / go on long trail rides / spend long hours mustering - is there anything I need to know? A must read for the endurance rider

For endurance and CTR riders we recommend to invest in our Physio or Christ HW pad for higher withered horses or the double padded Haf or Christ pad for broader horses with low to medium size withers. Yes you can also use the standard Grandeur pad but only if you use a standard D Lua Park pad underneath. The foam inserts of all our pads will need to be checked for compression and break down regularly and replacements need to be ordered if the foam is visibly squashed or if the memory foam starts to disintegrate, see 'saddle pads' pages. Most competitive riders own more than one therapeutic saddle pad and alternate those between legs on the rides. Many endurance riders use a combination of memory foam plus natural rubber in our therapeutic pads with great results. Besides needing additional layers of padding or a superior saddle pad, the endurance rider using a Barefoot saddle is strongly encouragd to give the horse intervals with very little or no weight in the stirrups for at least 10 minutes of every hour. This can be done in a walk or canter with your buttocks in the saddle or while you lead your horse. The weightshift of the rider allows circulation to return to areas on the horse's back under potential stress from two pointing. These changes of rider position are beneficial to your horse no matter what saddle you are using, think of shifting a backpack while hiking, yep that feels good. Endurance riders who stick to these few rules can have a wonderful and trouble free time.

If you are a novice to horse riding or you have balance issues (riding heavier on one side) please make sure you ride with enough padding and that you work on your balance. An unbalanced riding position due to untrained rider muscles or if you ride with more weight in one stirrup than the other can make horses very sore no matter what saddle you use. It is the opinion of the author that riders need to be extremely 'riding fit' and have a very good and balanced seat before they attempt any endurance rides. It is just not fair on the horses to ask top athletic performance if you can not assist the horse to achieve and maintain it. Schooling of the endurance horse to get off the forehand and to relax the back muscles while under saddle is essential to keeping your horse sound - no matter what saddle you use. You can tell who is riding their horse properly by the end of the endurance season, the horses who loose all topline instead of building it while doing massive amounts of work are not ridden in a competent way. Those riders would be well advised to get some help regarding proper training of horses under saddle and on the ground. No saddle will be able to prevent damage to the horses back if an endurance horse is not ridden properly, you create less damage with a treeless saddle but we still strongly encourage you to work on your own riding and training skills.


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