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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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!