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What’s the Difference Between a Treed and Treeless Saddle?

With equestrians becoming ever more conscious of having a well fitting saddle for their horses, a whole other concern arises; are treed or treeless saddles better?

Each side will always have their die hard supporters, and that’s why it’s so difficult to find information on the topic.

Every article you find is someone telling you one or the other is superior, without supplying any real facts on WHY. 

I wanted to give people information on both types of saddle and allow you to form your own opinion.

Every horse and rider combo is unique and what works for some may not work for others.

Hopefully the information here helps you to make your own educated decision on which type of saddle is best suited for you and your horse.

treeless vs treed horse saddle

What’s the Difference Between a Treed and Treeless Saddle?

Treeless Saddles

The largest downfall of treeless saddles is their lack of weight distribution. 

As with anything, when looking for a treeless saddle you need to find the perfect “fit.”

Treeless saddles range in quality and function just like any other saddle. 

Some are nothing more than a glorified bareback pad, while others are crafted with the impact on a horse’s back in mind and offer more in terms of weight distribution.

This is a perfect example of “you get what you pay for.”

A cheap, poorly made treeless saddle can cause just as much damage to your horse as a cheap, poorly made treed saddle can.

When using a treeless saddle, the weight of the rider is carried in the middle third of the saddle, rather than spread across the entirety of it.

This means you want to keep an especially close eye on the stirrup/girth area, as you can be adding additional pressure to the area which can cause discomfort or injury to your horse. 

Although known for their lack of weight distributing abilities, some treeless saddles are made with a panel in them that allows the saddle to better disperse the weight of the rider and lift the weight up off of the horse’s spine.

types of horse saddle

There are also saddle pads made specifically to be used with a treeless saddle that offer support in these areas as well.

Because they do not have a tree, these saddles provide a very close contact ride, this can be good for an experienced rider, but may be a downfall for a beginner.

They are also much more likely to fit multiple horses then a treed saddle, and they are extremely lightweight. 

The weight of the rider, the rider’s balance, how often you typically ride, and how hard you ride are all factors that can have effects on the amount of pressure felt by a horse. 

Lighter weight riders do not cause as much pressure on the horse’s back.

Riders with excellent balance can cause even less pressure.

So these people do not require the added support that a tree provides.

Those who ride lighter or less often are not inflicting enough pressure on their horses to cause any issues.

This could be comparable to you taking a leisurely stroll versus training for a marathon, obviously you require more support when working harder.

A treeless saddle can also be very beneficial to someone who often rides different horses (a trainer for example).

For someone in this situation, a treeless saddle would allow them to use one saddle they are comfortable in on a variety of horses with little worry of causing the horses discomfort.

Main Selling Points:

  • More “natural”
  • Closer rider contact
  • Can be used on multiple horses
  • Light weight

Cons of a Treeless Saddle:

  • Lack of weight distribution
what's the difference between treed and treeless saddle

Treed Saddles

The largest downfall to a traditional treed saddle is that it must be properly fit to each individual horse, and they often do not fit a wide array of horses you may have. 

A tree serves to remove all of the rider’s weight from the horse’s spine as well as spread the rider’s weight over the largest possible area.

Neither of these are possible if the tree is not properly fitted to the horse and making maximum contact with the horse’s back.

An improperly fitted treed saddle can cause anything from soreness, to muscle atrophy, to permanent nerve damage in some cases. 

A treed saddle is comparable to a good running shoe.

In horses who are being worked hard, a treed saddle provides support, comfort, and protection from the continuous impact occurring to their back.

Factors that should directly affect your decision to get a treed saddle or not are rider weight, how often, and the duration of your rides.

As a rider’s weight increases, more pressure needs to be dispersed over the horse’s back.

A properly fitted tree allows this weight to be distributed over the largest possible area, making it much easier on the horse.

Really, a rider’s balance affects this as well.

A larger rider with excellent balance can actually cause less pressure on a horse than a smaller rider with poor balance.

If you ride hard, multiple times a week, your horse may also require more support.

This can only be provided by a saddle with a tree. 

Aside from weight distribution, a treed saddle also provides spine clearance for the horse.

A rigid tree also provides stability and support for the rider.

Main Selling Points:

  • Weight distribution
  • Spine clearance
  • Stability
  • Support for rider

Cons of a Treed Saddle:

  • Must be fit to the individual horse

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In conclusion, I personally prefer a well fit treed saddle.

I really like the support that it gives me as a rider as well as the weight distribution it provides my horse on the long trail rides we enjoy going on.

I am also not an especially small rider or the best balanced rider.

After doing this research though, I could definitely see where treeless saddles would have their place and would work well for many horse and rider teams.

Hopefully, this was able to help you to draw your own conclusions and help you decide what is best for you and your equine partner.

If you are looking to buy a saddle, I highly recommend Horse Saddle Shop.

Their customer service is amazing and they are great about helping you to find a saddle that fits you and your horse perfectly.