Have you ever wondered about those cheap treeless saddles on eBay? The ones that forums say will maim your horse or break and send you crashing to the ground? Here's a list of my experiences with both the cheaper english-style treeless saddles, then with some nicer brand saddles for comparison.
Let's start with a description of my horse. Jax aka "Love of my Life" has massive shoulders, long sloping withers, and well-sprung ribs. He is long legged with a short back, and he's a BIG moving horse. I've had saddle makers try their trees on him in an effort to find something to fit him to no avail. I've tried Western, English, and Aussie saddles, all of them restricting the movement in his shoulders and causing him obvious discomfort, especially on the downhills. After reading many opinions and testimonials on treeless saddles, I finally decided to try treeless, but with very little cash I went the cheap route first.
1st TREELESS - CHEAP EBAY TREELESS SADDLE (ENGLISH) REVIEW
- $135 + s/h, made in India
- Used with a Reinsman contour pad, not a correct treeless pad, but it seemed to work for my horse (I did add panels onto this saddle to keep my weight off his spine)
- Very comfortable, decent construction and materials
- Horse never got sore in this saddle
- Took me a while to get my feet under me and gain my balance - had to shorten stirrups A LOT
- Made my very wide horse seem much wider, my hips eventually started popping
- Floppy construction - saddle was not secure, sold it after slipping. SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...
During my time riding in the saddle above, my horse tripped on a trail ride, straining his SI ligament. Since that time it's been difficult to really assess a saddle, since his SI gives him lumbar soreness at times, so some of the saddles below may not have gotten a fair assessment, especially the Ghost treeless saddle.
- 2nd Treeless - Jumping Saddle - ($65 on auction, reg. $120 + s/h, made in India) - okay saddle, not very nice to look at (black synthetic and bright orange). Saddle was slightly too small for me, and the seat was pretty hard. Not sure it was truly treeless as there was some very rigid materials used. Had detachable panels which I used on the treeless saddle above to make sure it would not sit on Jax's backbone, meanwhile this saddle sat in the tack room. Reattached the panels to this saddle and sold it after I sold the saddle above.
- 3rd Treeless - Spanish saddle ($160 + s/h, made in India) - decent quality leather and very comfortable. However, no rocker to it at all, and the seat area was very stiff. Sat like a flat board across his back, touching only withers and loin. Worked on the leather a bit and got it more flexible, then shimmed the detachable panels underneath so they would sit flat along his back. Looked like it fit ok, so took it for a short trail ride. Got back and found that the edges of the panels had poked his withers. Decided this saddle wasn’t worth the effort and sold it on eBay, mentioning it would only work on a flat-backed horse.
- 4th Treeless - Freemax Synthetic ($110 on eBay) - sat it up on my horse, hated the quality, sold it for dirt cheap on eBay.
5th Treeless - GHOST FIRENZE TREELESS SADDLE (DEMO)
- Used with a toklat pad, inserts were in need of replacement
- Very comfortable, nice construction and materials
- Naturally good position even with shorter stirrups
- Thin leather flaps under the thighs and saddle has a bit of a twist, so much more comfortable for my hips.
- Very secure saddle for the rider with the thigh blocks, and did not slip on the horse. SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...
6th Treeless - TORSION CLOSE CONTACT TREELESS SADDLE REVIEW
- Used with a toklat pad, with new inserts with poron
- Very comfortable, very nice construction and materials
- Naturally good position with long or short stirrups
- Close-contact style means no thick flaps under the thighs, gives the saddle a bit of a twist
- Very solid construction - fits my high withered, wide-shouldered horse wonderfully and DOES NOT SLIP. With a fleece saddle seat saver it’s very secure. SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...
Anything you put on your horse can hurt him. A $2,500 saddle, if not well fitted, can hurt him. The cheaper saddles in and of themselves can be used successfully if you know what to look for, and if you absolutely watch your horse for any behavior or physical changes. ALWAYS be a watchdog for your horse's health and happiness, but don't be afraid to experiment. In the end, my experience is that the Ghost/Torsion saddles are just plain easier. You don't have to fuss with them to make them work. They are better for your safety if you have a fast or spooky horse. They make mounting out on the trail MUCH easier. And if you don't know what to look for when considering your horse's comfort under saddle, these better brands have more customer support and better technical specs for making sure your horse, and you, are not injured.
UPDATE: Once I got to really try this saddle at all gaits, I realized it was too small for me. I ended up riding back on the cantle. I sold it on eBay and went back to a bareback pad until I found my Trekker Treeless, which, thankfully, seems to be working great!