The Saddle Tree: The Foundation of Your Saddle

The guidelines for finding the perfect saddle for yourself and your horse are fairly simple. Some common sense advice as well as techincal questions are addressed in this well written column on saddles.The guidelines for finding the perfect saddle for yourself and your horse are fairly simple. Some common sense advice as well as techincal questions are addressed in this well written column on saddles.

Story originally posted by Staff


What is the purpose of the tree?

“The purpose of the tree is to distribute the weight evenly and consistently over the horse’s back. It also gives a foundation to build the saddle on,” says Troy West. The tree needs to fit the horse so it is not hindering his performance. It should fit and be comfortable for horse and rider. The tree is the most important part of the saddle. If the tree is not right, no amount of leather, saddle pads, or silver is going to fix it.

How Should a Tree Fit a Horse?

You need to fit the tree to the horse to eliminate any and all pressure points,” says Bennie Evans.

Saddles don’t float on horses, Vic Bennet says, so there is always some source of pressure – but the tree should distribute weight evenly. When someone pokes you in the back with their finger, you can take the pressure for a little bit. But as time goes on, that concentrated pressure will start to bother you. But you could handle the pressure better if that person pressed on your back with their entire hand – distributing the weight.

“A tree needs to run as parallel to a horse’s back as possible,” says Troy West. He says that bars need to fit up on a horse’s frame, instead of dropping down lower on the sides. “Compare it to a person carrying a backpack. You can carry that backpack best higher on your frame, not dropped down lower.”

The length of the bars play an important part as well. If they are too short, the saddle will bear too much pressure beyond the last rib of the horse’s body.

What do all those measurements mean?

The complexity of saddlemaking shines through when you start talking numbers. There are no set standards when you start talking about the measurements on a tree. If your old saddle has a tree with 6-3/4 inch wide gullet and you tell your saddlemaker to call and order a tree with a 6-3/4 inch wide gullet for your new saddle, you aren’t necessarily going to get the same thing. “If the bars on the tree change – those measurements don’t mean a thing,” says David Meeks. Every part of the tree works together. A 6-3/4 inch wide gullet does not necessarily mean the same thing on every tree. Every tree maker does his a little different. You also have to take into consideration the roll or rock of the bar as well as seat length. If you lean the front forward or backward, you didn’t change the length of the seat, but you changed how it’s going to fit when you sit in it.

Talk with a saddlemaker about what you need. Don’t tell him what you think you need. Just because your cousin’s saddle fits so great doesn’t mean that a saddlemaker can duplicate the same exact saddle. It will be close, but it won’t be your cousin’s.

What are trees made from?

Most trees are being made out of wood such as pine or cottonwood. Different tree makers prefer to work with one type or the other. Again, personal preference is the deciding factor.

Once the trees are constructed, saddlemakers cover it with either fiberglass or rawhide. Some lighter weight saddle trees are also being covered with a plastic mold. Within those different kind of materials, you have different qualities of rawhide, fiberglass and plastic. With rawhide trees, the tree might be laced together with a cheaper nylon rather than a high-quality deer skin. A different number of layers might be applied to a fiberglass tree.
Saddlemakers that use rawhide trees will tell you that fiberglass trees break easier and they don’t have any flex to them. Saddlemakers that use fiberglass trees will tell you that a rawhide tree deteriorates faster and have too much flex. It’s just another choice that you the saddle owner is going to have to make.

Saddle Buying Tips

“So much of what’s important in a saddle you really can’t tell by just looking at it.” ÐCharles Crow

Before you buy your next saddle take the time to look past the pretty mahogany, fully tooled, silver laden “brand name” saddle sitting in the store window. Know what you are buying before you get home and realize that you didn’t get quite what you paid for.

Decide on a Discipline

Make sure you have your mind set on a discipline. A pleasure saddle does not double as a roping saddle and vice versa. Your saddle must help your horse perform to his potential, not hinder him. A saddle designed for a specific discipline will also enhance your performance. A calf roping saddle is designed to help launch riders out of the saddle quickly. A cutting saddle is designed to hold riders deep in the saddle next to the horse.

Talk to The Experts

Talk to other competitors in your discipline. Who has better experience than people that already have a saddle they like? Ask to take a test ride in their saddle. Talk with more than one saddlemaker if you can. Make sure you talk to people you trust – just because someone has an opinion doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the right opinion.

Buy the Best Saddle You Can Afford

When you buy a cheap saddle you are compromising your comfort, your horse’s comfort, saddle durability and resale value. After all the money you have spent training and showing your horse, a bad saddle will ultimately cost you more.

“Invest in a saddle that you can give to your kids and your grandkids – 20 years from now they are going to be worth two-times what you paid for them,” says Sean Ryon.

You have heard the old saying “you get what you pay for”. Investing in a good saddle will save you money and time.

Sit in the Saddle

You wouldn’t buy a bed with out lying down on it would you? Sit down and make sure the saddle is comfortable. Put your feet in the stirrups. Pretend the saddle rack is your horse back home.

Take the Saddle home

Whenever possible, take the saddle home and put it on your horse. Don’t let it just sit there, get on your horse and ride. If you do take the saddle home, make sure you treat the saddle better than you would if it was your own. The saddle owner is entrusting you with valuable property.

Look For Pride

Check the saddle over good. See if the saddlemaker has pride in what he has done. You can see pride in flawless quality craftsmanship.