Skip to Content

Treeless Saddles: Are They Bad for Horses?

Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!

 

Saddles have been around for centuries but treeless saddles are quite a recent invention. The horse community is divided over their use: some believe that they are good for horses while others believe they are bad.

Treeless saddles can be bad for some horses because they don’t distribute a rider’s weight evenly which can cause spine injuries, muscle soreness, and saddle sores, especially when riding over long distances. However, they do allow a horse to move more naturally.

Explained simply, treeless saddles don’t have a wooden or fiberglass frame (tree) like standard saddles. The lack of a tree allows horses to move naturally and freer.

Picture of an English treeless saddle

In this guide, we will cover:

  • What are Treeless saddles? Are treeless saddles bad for horses?
  • Why would you need a treeless saddle?
  • Do you need a special pad for treeless saddles?
  • Do treeless saddles slip?
  • Best treeless Western saddles
  • Best treeless English saddles.

Are treeless saddles bad for horses?

The theory behind treeless saddles is that they move more easily with the horse than traditional saddles do. This allows greater freedom and better stride length, which in turn allows horses to move more naturally.

Another advantage of treeless saddles is that they fit most horses. This makes them especially beneficial for horses that are hard to fit. Treeless saddles are also good for beginners and the rider’s expertise does not play a role.

Appearance-wise, treed and treeless saddles look similar. In fact; most horse riders cannot even tell the difference between the two even while riding. 

There is a lot of debate over the pros and cons of treeless saddles, and as matter of fact there is also some disagreement about whether saddles are bad for horses in general.

One school believes that treeless saddles provide no support for riders, causing injury to horses back. The other camp feels that the lack of trees makes the saddle much more comfortable for the horse’s back.

I tabulated the pros and cons of treeless saddles in the table below so you can make your own decision:

Pros of Treeless SaddlesCons of Treeless Saddles
No tree points to pressurize the horse’s back. This allows longer stride, greater freedom of movement,  and can enhance performance in competing horses.Some experts believe that, over time, treeless saddles can put constant pressure on the horses’ back and cause injuries.
Flexes and moves with the horse.Treeless saddles tend to slip
Ideal for horses that are hard to fitThey need special pads which can offer a higher degree of stability and cooling.
Treeless saddles are great for horses with swayed backs and riders with thin thighs.Treeless saddle don’t spread the riders weight evenly across a horses back, this could cause long term spinal problems. They are not suitable for large riders.

Why Would You Need a Treeless Saddle?

To answer this question, let us first answer ‘who should not use treeless saddles?’

Treeless saddles may not be suitable for large riders. Your hips can only open so far and if you happen to have thick thighs a treeless saddle will force your hips to open farther than they are capable. So, you have to rock backward to keep your hips in the sockets.

The thing with treeless saddles is that riders either love them or hate them. But a vast segment of the horse industry has been demanding treeless saddles and manufacturers have risen to the occasion. 

Because there are no restrictions from tree bars, treeless saddles are a lot easier to fit compared to traditional saddles. Also, they accommodate a vast assortment of riding stock making them an excellent choice for hard-to-fit horses.

By 2005, there were a lot of demand for light-weight, more natural treeless saddles. These offer greater freedom of movement and closer contact with riders. The trend was welcome and accepted in the endurance world but took a while for Western riders to accept. Now, there is much demand for trail-riding treeless as well as barrel-racing in this saddle.

Picture of a horse rounding a barrel

Treeless saddles gained popularity in the 2000’s when endurance riders recognized it provided greater freedom of movement and closer contact with their horse.

The treeless saddle trend caught on with many equestrians but it took time for Western enthusiasts to accept this new saddle. However, today trail riders and barrel racers have embraced treeless saddles.

Treeless saddles are especially suitable for thin riders and for horses with swayed backs.

Do You Need Special Pads for Treeless Saddles?

So, you’re looking for a new saddle and are considering the treeless option, but do you need to buy a new saddle pad as well or will your old saddle pads work with these types of saddles?

You should use a saddle pad designed specifically for use with a treeless saddle. These special saddle pads offer more comfort, stability and protection for the horse than standard pads.

Treeless saddle pads come in different styles, materials, and patterns. You can choose one that best suits your riding discipline – English, western, dressage, etc. You also get pads that address different concerns like high-withered horses or horses with short backs.

You can also choose pads with Velcro openings in case you wish to replace the foam and select something that offers better weight distribution or add special inserts.

Saddle pads made with neoprene material wick moisture and are also easy to clean. You can also choose saddle pads that allow body heat to escape and keep the horse cool in hot weather.

Do Treeless Saddles Slip?

If your horse has an irregularly shaped back, there is a chance that the treeless saddle will slip. Many riders experience this problem. Some riders use an extra shim on the flat side which might help to an extent.

You can also look for a neoprene-lined girth to stabilize your saddle. The length of the girth is important – make sure the buckles are just below the saddle flap and not halfway down the belly. 

Alternatively, use a non-slip numnah.

Best Treeless Western Saddles

Hilason Western Treeless American Leather Saddle – Winner!

Hilason Western Treeless Saddle is made with premium-quality materials and excellent craftsmanship.

Features

  • It is available in 3 sizes and comes in an attractive turquoise color.
  • Lightweight – weighs 21 lb.
  • Waffle-hand tooling

Benefits

  • Keeps horses fast and comfortable due to even weight distribution
  • Encourages free movement for faster turns
  • Fits a range of horses – lightweight, draft, and pony breeds.

Drawbacks

  • Expensive but worth the price.

Best Budget Buy: Star Trading Company Adult Western Trail Barrel Racing Premium Leather TREELESS Horse Saddle

The best part about the Star Trading Company’s treeless barrel is that it is versatile and can be used for events like barrel-racing as well as pleasure riding.

Features

  • Has a raw-hide horn
  • Base is synthetic wool
  • Hand-tooled floral design
  • Premium leather with antique finish
  • Sizes 12 to 18-inches

Benefits

  • Affordable, high-quality western treeless saddle

Drawbacks

Product availability is an issue – goes out of stock often.

Best English Treeless Saddle

Winner: Acerugs New Western English Horse Riding Bareback PAD Premium TREELESS Saddle Leather Stirrups Comfy Horse Saddle TACK

Don’t let the name fool you – Acerugs saddle pad is a popular treeless saddle (and not just a pad) for Western and English riding. It fits most horses as it comes with long leathers. You can use any size of stirrups you like for kids or adults (the saddle comes with its aluminum stirrups). The same is the case with the girth – use any size girth you’d like.

Features

  • Fleece-lined and suede top
  • Thick fleece underside ensures horse’s comfort
  • Has a stability riding handle for balance.
  • Stirrups and cinch included

Benefits

  • Soft for both rider and horse
  • Needs little care
  • Long-lasting
  • Long leathers with extra holes to spare

Drawbacks

Some people found the cinch huge and had to use their own.

Best Treeless Saddle for Kids: HR, International Youth Child English Synthetic Treeless FREEMAX

HR International presents this complete treeless saddle kit for kids. It comes with girth, leather straps, and aluminum stirrups.

Features

  • Padded deep seat
  • Velcro system
  • Lightweight – about 9 lb.

Benefits

  • Washable
  • Can be used on variety of horses

Drawbacks

  • Fitting takes time.

Final Recommendations

Treeless saddles are useful for horses of different shapes and sizes. They are especially beneficial for hard-to-fit horses and allow greater freedom of movement. The lack of a tree helps keep the horse pain-free.

We recommend the Hilason Western Treeless Saddle because it fits a variety of horse breeds, comes in an attractive color, and uses high-quality materials. It also prevents pressure points and sore backs on horses.

Don’t forget to check out my other recommendations too.

FAQs

What do I need to know about treeless saddles?

There is no consensus among horse enthusiasts about whether treeless saddles are beneficial or harmful for horses. However, treeless saddles do allow a horse to move more naturally with a rider than a traditional saddle does.

Are treeless saddles good for trail riding?

In general treeless saddles are good for trail riding, but a lot depends on the horse and quality of the saddle.

Are treeless saddles good for high-withered horses?

Treeless saddles are an excellent option for high-withered horses because they put less direct pressure on the spine than standard saddles.