Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Curious about treeless: Part II of the treeless journey

Older Ansur saddle
Years ago I read an article in Dressage Today (April or May 2002, p. 116) about treeless saddles -- actually it was in the Q and A column, and someone had posted a question about treeless saddles. J. Ashton Moore, Ansure saddle user, responded. I don't recall the exact words (read ultimagedressage.com post about it ) but it was a thoughtful, encouraging response.  I was intrigued, but at the time I was riding in a custom Amerigo. Harv, with his hock arthritis, was cold-backed at times, and I wondered if treeless might help him. Partly because I was tapped for cash, and partly because the Ansur saddles at the time (pictured left) were kind of unattractive,  I never went further.

Ansur Excel dressage saddle
 They've come a long way baby
Fast forward ten or so years, and Riley is now my main ride. In a year and a half, his back has changed significantly. He pissy and indignant about his too-narrow saddle. He is moving his legs but not his back; his jaw is tense; he balks.

According to one fitter, he is no longer a medium but a wide. Kiss my great brown saddle goodbye! As I resumed my search for the ultimate saddle, I began musing about treeless again--but in a vague sort of unmotivated way. Then I met someone who has an  Ansur Excel. They offered to let me try it.

The plan for a fair test
Whenever you try to compare two things -- like saddles -- goofy extraneous factors get in the way. You ride in one saddle on a certain day, then before you ride in the other the farrier shoes your horse; your horse gets kicked; your trainer tunes your horse up; the weather gets bad and there is no turnout. You can't do a fair test when life gets in the way. How to get around it? Here's what we did...
  1. I rode in my County Perfection for 1/2 hour.
  2. I rode in the Excel for 1/2 hour.
  3. I rode in the County Perfection again.
 That was a good plan, and I came away with a distinct impression of the treeless saddles. Stay tuned...


  1. Fascinated by your journey. I have been riding treeless to do endurance / competitive trail rides and a lot of my summer work (leading children's trail rides.) That saddle, a Sensation English Trail, is worth its weight in gold as far as comfort for my horse and I. However, now that we are dipping our toes a little further in the dressage world, I am continually advised to stick with my traditional Collegiate treed saddle and not look to find a treeless dressage alternative. I'm not 100% sure, but still so much in the beginning stages that I find it best to stick with my instructors say. But certainly keeping my mind open!

  2. Just an addition--since 2008 or so, Ansur saddles have evolved tremendously in internal structure and design. The Excel and Carlton are very different from the original Classic which is often the subject of much commentary about the saddles.

  3. Very interested in your experience. I am currently on the horrible saddle search and did try the Sensation treeless. I have a wide, short backed, highly opinionated Arab mare. She did not fuss with the treeless and I was on the verge of falling in love until she performed her best acrobatic feat spinning 180 degrees at a canter in about 2 seconds flat and while I am used to it and stayed with her, the treeless was not and slid halfway around her side. I jumped off (emergency dismounted, really) and that was the end of that.

  4. What a great idea, to try both saddles in one session! Wish I'd thought of that....

  5. Can't wait to see how you liked it!

  6. Got to love the cliff hangers...

  7. I had a bad experience with treeless saddle also. I was trying a warmblood for sale at the trot when he spooked. The saddle slipped to the side of him and I hit the ground head first cracking my helmet. I also have a fussy horse when it comes to saddles and have been advised to stay with a tree to move up the levels and that treeless is not an option. Good luck on your search. Can't wait to hear what happens next.

  8. I hadn't thought of saddle slipping being a possible problem with treeless - very good feedback from folks on that!
    Given I prefer a closer contact feel, and hate the pressure points trees so often give, I love the idea of treeless. I don't know of any I could try to see how I do in them, but would jump at the chance to borrow one and see how it felt. Basically, I imagine a treeless feeling like a stiff bareback pad with stirrups, and I love the closeness that idea seems like it would give.

  9. You could look into getting the County's tree widened... it's not as expensive as getting a new saddle though it's a procedure you don't want to do more than a few times in the saddle's life. But it might be worth looking into... I think Beval charges a few hundred to do it.

  10. I think when we share treeless stories we should indicate the brand we're talking about. I've been surprised at how many "cheapo" treeless saddles there are, and I suspect they're just like the under 1K saddles you can buy -- not quite, but almost, worse than nothing.

  11. The only saddle that fits my Friesian well enough is an "under 1K" saddle. Chiropractors, saddle fitters, equine therapists and vets all agree my saddle fits my horse perfectly well and it has never even had to be reflocked. His back has never reacted to pressure points. I think it all depends on the horse and the needs of the rider ... not the price of the saddle, necessarily.

  12. I have a wide barrel, big-shouldered, no wither Morgan/QH cross. We tried the Excel and both liked it BUT with no withers I didn't feel confident the saddle would stay on top of him without cranking the girth. Now we are in a wide Lovatt/Rickett Ellipse and both love it! I didn't know there were hoop-tree saddles before I got my current horse but they sure do the trick. The Ansur is a nice saddle but not for us.

  13. I agree that widening the county's tree might be a good option. Ask Gary about it as he used to work for County.

    Treeless sadddles *can* slip but the ones that have a gullet are less likely than the ones that do not. I have had, over the years, a Torsion, a Barefoot, a Freeform and a Fheonix. Provided they are girthed properly, they are pretty darn secure.

    I have jumped in the Fhoenix and the Freeform (not big fences, maybe up to 2') and they've stayed secure then, too.


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