The controversy over what saddles to use and how to use them has always been and will always be.
I have always kept and held true to my opinion through my experience on this subject and yes I have put my neck on the chopping block many times over willingly and taken my public and private verbal whooping like a big girl . I have done so in that through my life time to date and many thousands of horses now, I have always looked to what the horse has taught me in what works best for them, not for me. I refuse to allow my self to be held hostage by marketing techniques, regurgitated words, and yet a product never performs as the words were spoken. I refused to be held to what is popular or the saddles being status symbol to own, only by what is best for the horse. Below is from an e-mail I was sent yesterday on a study conducted from a source that I hold in high regard and have learned much from over the years.
I know in some situations a treeless saddle is the only option for some horses just due to shape and a tree for that shape can not exist unless custom made so there is and can be a place in those situations. IME I see no place for a bar-less saddle though.
I am also aware of the issues that exist in conventional saddle fit, but this is a human problem in the industry due to lack of tree manufactures and saddle builders being educated enough, and willing to learn more about the horse in it's true conformation and how the body needs to function properly in carrying a human and performing what we ask. This should not be IMO, with all the avenues in technology we have to research and expand the overall knowledge base on this topic. It should be more than just make the sales pitch sound great, but must also perform great. The saddle owners DO hold a huge responsibility in this also, in how to use the products properly as well as applying good horsemanship skills. When big money, ego's and politics enter into anything the true path gets blurred and we have to do our homework which takes time and brain power. We should not allow our selves and our horses to become victims of it all. Saddle and tree manufacturing is an art but the artistic pretty or fancy saddle also holds secondary place to function, pretty will not keep your horse sound , your horse safe, you riding properly and you safe as well. Be sure it fits and functions first, and then one can chose what the appearance can be.
Treeless vs. Conventional Saddles: Back Pressure Evaluated
by: Christa Lesté-Lasserre
November 23 2011, Article # 19191
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Treeless saddles are often said to be more "natural," more comfortable for riders and/or horses, or more universally fitting for all equine back shapes and rider seats. But according to a leading equitation scientist, the tree still seems to serve a very important purpose: regulating pressure distribution.
"What you can see with the treeless saddle is a very definite concentration of pressure right underneath the rider's seat bones," said Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, MRCVS, Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, during the presentation of her study at the 2011 International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) Conference, held Oct. 26-29 in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands. However, that's not the case with a well-fitted conventional saddle, which pressure mats reveal applies much more even pressure with lower peak forces across the horse's back, she said.
"That suggests that the tree is indeed doing what it's supposed to do, in terms of spreading the force over a larger area of the horse's back," she said.
In her study Clayton fitted eight purebred Arabian horses with pressure mats under their saddles and had them ridden at a slow, sitting trot in a straight line by the same, experienced rider. The rider rode each horse once with a treeless saddle and once with a conventional English saddle custom-fitted to an Arabian horse. The saddles weighed exactly the same, and the rider rode without stirrups.
What Clayton and her colleagues found was that the conventional saddle was much more effective in spreading out the pressure on the horse's back caused by the rider's weight, Clayton said. Generally the treeless saddles resulted in higher peak pressures, and more sensors detected significant pressure levels (higher than 11 kilopascals--a number that's significant in the appearance of clinical signs of back pain and injury, according to Clayton)--meaning a larger number of high individual pressure points.
"For the conventional saddle the loading was approximately equal across all thirds (of the saddle from front to back), whereas for the treeless saddle we had a very definite concentration of loading in the middle third (where the rider sits)," Clayton said.
Pressure would be even higher with a heavier rider (the study rider weighed 125 pounds) and at faster gaits, she said.
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Even so, conventional saddles are not necessarily ideal, according to Clayton. "The tree is a somewhat rigid structure, and the fact that it is rigid means there is need for the tree to fit correctly both to the horse and to the rider," she said. "A lot of riders have become very frustrated because it has become difficult to find a tree that does fit comfortably on both the horse and the rider."
Thus it's important to ensure your saddle fits your horse and isn't causing him back pain, and a saddle fitter or experienced horseman can assist in this task.
It would be interesting to see in further studies if a treeless saddle might still be an improvement over a poorly fitted conventional saddle, Clayton said. Additional studies should also test different kinds of treeless saddles.