Category Archives: Tack thoughts

DEMO SADDLE EXTRAVAGANZA, Part 2 — Treeless Saddles!

In my previous post  (2/21/10) I spoke of my Treed Demo Saddle Extravaganza.  Today, I’d like to chat about my Treeless Adventure!

For me, I prefer treeless if it works for the horse.  I say that because in my experience, I have had sore backs with treed saddles but not with treeless.  Now, I’m not trying to convert anyone… so please no worries or ruffled feathers.  I’m just reporting what I found in my demo process.  So, here we go!

First of all, I am short (5’4″) with an even shorter leg.  I don’t weigh that much (113lbs) but I do have a large thighs.  (All that speedskating… ;) )  For me, I tend to prefer a very lightweight saddle that is easy to rig, stirrups are forward, sturdy enough for me to mount from the ground, I can stand in the stirrups when I need to and it has to have a spine channel and adequate padding for the horse.  I also like close contact so I don’t like much fluff under my leg — like long/thick flaps.  My biggest question is regarding weight distribution.  Most people argue that a treeless saddle will sore the horse because the rider weight is centered in one spot on the back (I wonder what the Indians did… ).  But, you know, I had this very wise Cavalry Expert and he said to me, “The Indians never wore saddles and they were always ahead of the Cavalry…”  So, hmmmmm….

Anyway, let’s start with the list of Demos – and there are many more out there.  I just ran out of steam…

  • Sensation Hybrid
  • Sensation Harmony Element
  • Freeform Enduro X
  • FreeWest
  • Kuda Endurance
  • Startrekk Comfort
  • Startrekk Western
  • Startrekk Espaniola
  • Barefoot Cheyenne
  • Barefoot Atlanta
  • Black Forest
  • Ansur
  • Cashel Soft Saddle
  • Torsion
  • EZ Fit
  • El Companero

Here are my top 5.


Pros:  I liked this saddle because it is built well, uses quality leather and addresses most of my issues. Truly, these saddles are very carefully designed, easy on the eye and you can pick just about any color over several styles.  One of the models is sure to fit most any horse, even gaited shoulders.  And, it is easy to adjust, is very lightweight (7 lbs) and easy to clean.  I preferred the Hybrid because it suits my needs as a trail rider.  However, I think all the styles have the same quality and attention to detail for you and your horse.  And, you can speak to the manufacturer to request what you’d like in your particular saddle.  They have a great demo program going with several of their US reps.  I strongly suggest demoing several styles until one is juuuust riiiiight.

Cons:  For me and my shorter leg, I found the stirrups, in any position, were not quite right.  I know that the manufacturer is looking into this for the shorter legged rider.  So, they will probably fix this in time.  In the meantime, I have cut off their stirrups and added one from the Freeform that works well.  You will need a very good pad (an investment) underneath this saddle – as with most treeless saddles.  And, for me, I wish this saddle had a version with waaay shorter flaps.  I hear that is in the works, too. The biggest drawback for me is if you have a higher withered horse, the Sensation may not work for you.  Make sure to demo it.


Pros:  I like this Italian made saddle because it has structure and it feels like a treed saddle.  (Some people don’t like that about the Freeform.)  It is very adjustable as the seat and stirrups are all velcro’d on so you can put them where you like them.  The Freeform saddles allow me to mount from the ground and have no bulk under the leg for good contact.  And, it does not get in the way of a gaited or high stepping shoulder.  They have a few different seat styles/sizes and stirrup leather styles so you can mix and match.  I like the short flaps on these styles but they do have dressage models and endurance/trail models with longer flaps.  I can see how the weight distribution would work with this saddle.

Cons:  Because these saddles feel more formed, you do need to have a pad that is adjustable if your horse is uphill, downhill or whatever.  The seat isn’t cushy but I just added a sheepskin.  The manufacturer is in Europe but there are several reps here that are very knowledgeable.


Pro:  I might call this my favorite saddle if I had more rides in it.  I just got my demo and love the volumes of adjustments available.  Literally, you get the parts and you can move them all around.  The girth strap and stirrups are velcro’d on so you can move them anywhere.   You can remove the fenders if you want less bulk.  The pommel is very stout (it is fixed) so you feel secure.  The cantle is also movable so you can adjust the seat after holiday meals….and there are two sizes of cantle should you want a 5″ or a 3″.   You can have several choices of fenders or stirrup leathers as well as stirrups.  It comes in a multitude of colors, English or Western rigging and has several D-rings for trail riders. The foam against the horse is durable and won’t compress to nothingness.  I also love the tacky tack underside.  It stays where you put it.  And, because it has such nice padding, and a nice spinal channel, you don’t have to have a really thick additional pad.  So, that feels more close contact for me.  I also like that it feels substantial, had a wide weight distribution yet is treeless.  I like that you can speak to the saddle maker directly.  He modified my saddle to my specifications and is a really nice guy.  He uses all Amish leather and has put years of thought into his saddle configurations.

Cons:  The velcro is really, really strong.  So, adjusting the stirrup placement and girth can be a 2-person job.  Since the seat is virtually a “skin flap”, it is difficult to get it as smooth as they do at the factory without practice.  Also, I use a sheepskin seat cover to make it more cushy.  Probably the biggest con is that this saddle looks different than most saddles.  I don’t care but some might…


Pros:  I like many attributes of this saddle.  The pommel is adjustable in that you have a choice of three different sizes to fit almost any wither and shoulder.  The rigging is easy.  The leather is nice!  I think the construction is very good.  It feels like a treed saddle.  The spine channel is open and available.  It also comes in a “shorty” size for shorter backed horses.  And, it really does give huge wither clearance, which is rare in a treeless saddle.  You can also grab onto the pommel and many people like that security in a treeless.  There are several styles of Startrekk which are very different from each other so one will most likely fit you and your horse.  There is a great demo program, just go to this website.

Cons:  Changing out the pommels can be time consuming.  But, not that bad.  The leather isn’t soft and cushy but the seat is very comfortable. You cannot speak to the manufacturer directly however the rep is very sweet and goes out of her way to accommodate.


Pros:  The is the best bareback pad I have ever used!  It isn’t a saddle, it is a pad.  However the El Companero is made of excellent suede that keeps your hiney glued right in place.  It has a ohjeez handle and lots of tie straps.  The girthing is easy and it stays put.  If your horse has a fairly comfortably shaped back, this pad is wonderful to ride and FEEL everything.  I love, love, love mine.

Cons:  The material has a huge footprint.  It is like a blanket instead of a pad.  I cut mine back to a reasonable area.  Also, Bareback pads are not for everyone.  They challenge your balance and take time to provide confidence.  But, this is the best one I’ve ever used.  If you like the close contact feel and love the bareback experience, this is the pad for you!


Kuda Saddle:  I tested a Kuda and really liked it.  It is strong and supportive, has great weight distribution and is comfortable and secure.  However, when I went to the website, it had totally changed.  I wondered if the saddle company has been sold?  Anyway, they now call it a Leather-Flex Tree.  There is no tree but it has thick leather as a base.  It sounds like it would be hard and nasty but it isn’t.  I quite liked it, actually.  Since this is made for Pasos and horses with a high step, it really gives shoulder space.  And, it is a great trail saddle.  The Con was that it didn’t fit my wider withered horses.  But, if you have a Paso or an Arab, this might be the perfect trail saddle for you.  When I ordered mine, I got to speak to the importer himself.  That was nice.  He offered to make any changes I wanted.

So there you have it!  Please ask any questions!  Do you have any treeless saddles that you love?

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QUEST FOR SADDLE. My 2009 Demo Saddle Search Extravaganza!

I went crazy last year — well actually I haven’t stopped —  trying demo endurance and trail saddles!

Why?  you ask…  Well, for many years, I rode only one horse.  His saddle fit him perfectly and we had miles and miles of happy trails together.  But, he retired and I acquired a few more riding horses.  Actually, 6 more.  And, they are completely different from each other. We have a Draft cross, an Icy, two gaited TWHs that are siblings but not alike, a Morgan and a freight train shaped Mustang.

Having so many backs to measure, it was clear to me that not all static treed saddles will fit all horses.  In fact, I found that most treed saddles will only fit horses with that particular tree shaped back.  Frustrating but totally logical.

I know that there are many saddle pads out there with shims to compensate for an “almost” fitting saddle.  But, my goal was to find a saddle that actually fit each horse. And, if I was lucky enough to get one saddle that fit more than one horse, Bonus!  (Pictured is my mare in my 12 year-old Boz saddle.)

OK, here is a partial list of the treed saddles I demo’d last year.  I cannot remember them all.  But, I bet you if you throw out a name, I will either have tried it or read about it…  (I need an intervention.)

  • Gaston Mercier
  • Henry Miller Gaited Kentuckian Endurance
  • Barnsby Anky Dressage
  • Specialized
  • Boz
  • Synergist
  • Bar J Sunriver Trail
  • Timberline Cutback Trailblazer
  • Sycamore Creek
  • BT Crump
  • R L Watson
  • Down Under Longreach Endurance
  • Down Under Kimberly Stock
  • Barnsby All Purpose
  • JJ Maxwell
  • Tucker Endurance
  • Orthoflex
  • Steele Plantation
  • Steele Mountaineer
  • Syd Hill Synthetic
  • Wintec All Purpose
  • Stubben All Purpose

Now, I have something to say about each of these saddles.  But, I am going to pick the top 5, in my opinion, and tell you what I thought.  And, if you’d like, please ask any questions.

1)  Boz Sheepskin Saddle:

Pros:  Ok, well, I love this saddle.  I have had one for 12 years.  I use the heck out of it and it still looks new.  I love the balanced ride created originally by Monte Foreman – forward stirrups like the polo rider, jumper or jockey.  The forward stirrup just works for me.  I NEVER lose my balance.  I can stand in the stirrups easily and ride for hours.  The twist is perfect for me. Seriously.  It just fits.  It fits me and my horse loves it.  He is a normal backed Morgan with a normal wither. I also like the simple cinch that doesn’t bunch under your leg.  I love the “V” hanger for the stirrups and I also love the tiny footprint of the flex tree for short backed horses (not a flexible tree, but a flex tree – different).  And, of course, he was the first one to consider sponge bars that are contoured to your horse as a pad.  Everything is easy to clean.  And, best of all, it weighs around 9lbs.  Yay!  I like small, hardly there but secure saddles.

Cons:  You cannot demo a saddle.  You have to find someone who has the tree that your horse would need and try it.  These saddles are not cheap.  But, I have had mine forever… And, he has now created an inexpensive saddle kit where you can easily make your own sheepskin saddle.  Really.  You have to call Boz to order your saddle and he will walk you through what will work for you as far as the tree.  But, you have to spend some time chatting.  And, he says that the saddle will fit any horse.  But, no saddle fits every horse.  And, I have his saddle.  It doesn’t fit one of my TWHs.  But, it does fit the Morgan, Mustang and the other Walker.  Even with all the above, this is still my favorite treed saddle, bar none.

2)  Bar J Stage Coach West Sun River Trail Saddle

Pros:  This is a gorgeous saddle and really well priced.  You can demo it, too.  It absolutely fit my Morgan and one of my TWHs.  It has every trail riders’ gadget, the fenders are pre-turned and the easy girthing is a dream.  The designer of this saddle owns Stage Coach West (huge outfitters) and he created it based on what he wanted in a saddle after 30 years of riding.  He got it right.

Cons:  It weighs 26lbs.  And, the actual seat is not really comfy for my boney bottom.  You might want to sit in it to test the twist.  I don’t love the twist.  But, otherwise, this saddle is wonderful.

3)  Gaston Mercier

Pros:  This is the most beautiful and technically sound saddle I have ever seen.  Truly.  No joke.  And, you can demo it.  The construction is incredible.  OMG.  I was dumbstruck.  The designer is a famous, long time French endurance rider.  These saddles are very light, fit on the back like a glove and you feel like you are at one with the horse.  For a treed saddle, you cannot get a more close contact fit with this kind of security.  OMG, again.  Go to the website and see how the technology has advanced in this saddle.  And, to add to the pot, the only US dealer is also a real sweet person.  You can contact her and chat all about it.

Cons:  I received a medium tree and a wide tree.  Both were too narrow at the wither for any of my horses.  So, these saddles are made for Arabs, TBs or a more narrow wither than my brutes.  I didn’t try the Xwide.  I should have but got scared that I might really love it and … have to actually purchase one.  Which brings me to the final con, the price.  I’m not saying they aren’t worth it.  I’m just saying that these saddles cost exactly what they should for the design and craftsmanship.

4)  Eli Miller Endurance

Pro:  These saddles are hand made by an Amish Saddle maker, Eli Miller.  Eli is semi-retired. If you can get one of these saddles, you are lucky.  The seats are suspended.  You will never feel a seat like this.  Absolute comfort.  The bars are flared in the front so there is no shoulder interference.  He uses beautiful harness leather.  You can use with regular girthing or the center fire rigging.  The stirrups are turned, it is made for the trails and the saddle is shorter (23″-24″) for the shorter backed horses, which I love.  And, it only weighs 19lbs.

Cons:  Hard to get.  (His nephew, Henry Miller, is also a saddle maker that studied under Eli.  His saddles are more available.)  The seat was a bit large for me but I did add a sheepskin which helped.  I also felt the twist was just a tad too wide for me.  However, I think most people would love it.

5)  Barnsby Anky Dressage

Pros:  This is an oldy but goodie.  The tree is very non-invasive and has so much genteel padding that it really does fit your horse, as long as you get the correct width.  And, there are many widths so this is easy.  The knee rolls are in the right place and not too stiff or too large.  The seat is deep, secure and made for a woman’s hiney.  Yay!  (Of course, this was designed by a famous female dressage rider.)  This saddle holds up over the years and can be re-stuffed easily.  This is just a classic, comfortable work horse saddle that looks great in the ring and works really well on the trail.

Cons:  No D-rings for the trail, duh.  Also, it is tough to find one of these but you can get them if you are patient.

Honorable Mention

6)  I have to mention Sycamore Creek Saddlery and Tony Pritchett.   Tony is the nicest guy… and he will work with you.  If you have a Paso or an Arab or a narrow withered horse, you should call him.  (He says he is getting wider treed saddles in…)  He has a ton of saddle styles and each one is made to your specification. Yes, they are from Columbia.  But, they look really nice, are well made and well designed.  I tried several of them.  And, even though they didn’t quite fit my wide horses, each style was more impressive than the last.  Tony went above and beyond to try to help me find a saddle.  And, I’m sure he would find a saddle for me once the wider models arrive.  You cannot go wrong here if you like the styling and if you have a narrower horse.  — A really good bang for your buck in a treed saddle.

So that is the first installment of my Saddle Quest.  If you have any questions, just ask.  Above all, enjoy yourselves and your horses out there!  Spring is almost here!  Time to clean tack while watching Project Runway!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!