Do you ride ‘treeless’?

Are we ready for treeless saddles?

Many would argue, the finest horsemen in history were also the most natural...

The Cherokee Native Americans set what seems an unreachable bar in horsemanship. So are we ready for treeless saddles?

To say riding with a treeless saddle is the same as riding bareback would, of course, be completely ludicrous. But does it not demand a similar level of horsemanship?

The tree is built to provide support, even pressure and comfort – for the horse and the rider. A treeless saddle cannot offer these same benefits. Instead, it leaves the horse vulnerable to abnormal pressure points. The rider’s seat bone can dig into the horse, causing its back muscles to tighten.

Isn’t the tree there to help, where we lack the supreme ability the Native Americans had? Perhaps not? Perhaps you ride your horse treeless? Even bareback? Does it work for you?

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  1. stasha

    I ride treeless. The reason why is because I have a percheron that is only 4 and changing almost monthly I find it very comfortable and believe untill she has fully grown it is best for her instead of having a treed saddle that can heart her because she is growing so fast.You have to mount from a mounting block other wise the saddle might slip slightly but apart from that, Im loving it.

    1. Lily

      its always better to use a mounting block anyway. when you mount from the ground it puts a huge!! amount of pressure on their back. it’s also better for your back to use a block πŸ™‚

  2. geraldine

    I have to disagree, many treeless saddles distribute the weight equally as well as treed saddles. For the horse with a small saddle area sometimes treeless is the only answer. I take each horse for the individual they are and do the best for them. I’m sorry I do not believe your research is accurate.

  3. Bev

    Hi I tried a Stunni treeless, very dangerous, all 3 people who tried it came off, saddle/stirrups both slipped and we all went under the horse. 2 of the riders were very experienced and hadn’t had falls for years. It’s the stupid way the stirrups are balanced not fixed.

    1. Jill

      I haven’t heard of the Stunni – don’t tar all treelesses with the same brush; it sounds like a design fault. Could you explain what you mean by the stirrups being balanced, not fixed? ❓

      1. Em

        I ride treeless some of the time. I have never heard of a Stunni and it sounds more like a bare back pad. A good treeless looks like a regular saddle just no tree.
        I started rideing at about age 5 and never had a saddle until I was 12 and I think all riders should learn bareback as it teaches you balance and how to move with your horse instead of relying on the saddle and stirrups.
        If my horse acts up my feet come out of the stirrups without my even thinking and I revert back to bareback riding.
        I also use Dr Cook’s bitless bridle.
        Not all bitless bridles are equal.

        1. Heike

          I have never heard of a Stunni saddle and my two treeless saddles are like regular western saddles without trees. I use them about 50% of the riding time and I can mount the horses using the stirrups without having the saddles slip.
          I also started riding as a kid riding bareback and totally agree with Em about learning balance and a good seat without relying on stirrups and a saddle.

  4. Don

    I ride bareback, the place where I ride and take lessons there are only 4 people who ride with saddles, the owner of the stable maintains that part of anyones horsemanship training should be riding bareback to learn proper balance, your horse will love you for it. And for those of you who thing you can’t post during the trot, sit on a hard floor with your legs straight in front of you and walk across the floor with your butt cheeks this is the same motion you use when your horse trots.

    1. Deb

      Love Don’s comments. I just started riding a few years ago in my 40’s. I wasn’t improving riding English or western. Then I broke 5 ribs and found it really painful riding with any type of saddle. I started riding bareback. Not only has my riding improved tremendously, but my horse is enjoying being ridden now. She and I have made great leaps in subtle movements. She and I seem to work together much better than we ever did with either saddle.

    2. lydia

      I have always said that all riders should learn to ride bareback, I use to teach 36 kids riding n I always taught them bareback riding …so important

  5. ellie

    i ride treeless now and have to say its much more comfy and my horses seem to be happier with it. i would say though if you are a bad rider then it probably makes it worse for your horse, as if you can feel them better, they can also feel you more, but treed is not the answer! all treeless saddles are different so shop around. Bev i dont like the sound of your stunni, my saddle has fixed stirrups and does not move on my horses unlike my old treed saddles. im converted! and am going to try bittless nxt

    1. Jill

      Bitless will be the best thing you ever do, and don’t let the doubters put you off. Do your research first so that you will be confident and able to answer the questions, or the criticisms disguised as questions. Your horse will thank you for it.

    2. Tabitha

      I have to agree with Ellie, that it depends on your riding ability, for short daily rides anyway. And I also think that everyone should learn to ride bareback. But I question whether treeless is good for extended riding. I say this after discussing it with an accomplished natural horsewoman I’ve taken lessons from. She has a really good seat, and she used to ride treeless, until her mare started stumbling on a long trail ride. She could not find a reason for it, until she pulled the saddle off. Her mare’s back was actually swollen under her seat. And this woman is an excellent bareback rider. So now, when she needs a saddle, it is treed and on a theraflex pad. So I think it also depends on what kind of riding you are doing. At least if you want to make sure you don’t hurt your horse’s back.

      As for bitless, I wish you the best of luck with it. It is awesome if you can ride bitless. With some horses, you can be gentler with a bit. But having your horse willing and soft enough to ride bitless is a great goal.

  6. abi

    I am thinking of buying a treeless saddle for my welsh pony. I have heard from friends that they are great. Also one of them owns a horse that has no withers so a treeless is perfect for him. πŸ˜‰

  7. Jill

    Indeed I do ride treeless. There is nothing to pinch, poke or prod the horse’s back, and providing you use the correct saddle pad (essential) there is no pressure on his spine – this can be seen clearly if you take the saddle off a sweaty horse, you can see the dry line down his back. My seat is deeper, my legs are closer to the horse’s body, I can ride with my stirrups longer, and if he gains or loses weight, the saddle adapts to this. It has improved my riding tremendously, even if I ride somebody else’s horse with a conventional treed saddle. We can feel each other’s every move. You need to shop around to avoid being ripped off and paying a fortune. And the older ones (like mine) don’t all have open stirrup bars, so I use safety stirrups in case of accidents, but the modern ones have the safety-type bars – though personally I never trust these anyway; we all know how hard it can be to get leathers off a saddle, even when we want to.

  8. alexis

    What is a treeless saddle ❓

  9. Kenady

    I ride all my horses bareback & we communicate so much better than when using a saddle at all. On one of my horses I can even go with out any bridle at all. I think you should do a lil more research on these kind of things next time.

  10. Sue


    Alexis,just google treeless saddles and you’ll get masses of information. Great saddles for horses that are still growing & or seasonally change shape.

    I’m just starting to ride my 5yr old gelding in an Easytreck bitless bridle – cross under. Partly because it is the most reasonably priced I could find and because I don’t want to inadvertently give him a nasty jab in the mouth should he suddenly spook or trip. He is comfortable, flexes well, stops to one rein held upwards. He is being handled & played with via naturalhorsemanship methods and lots of groundwork.He moves easily between a knotted rope halter to the whole head hug of the cross under for hacking out around the village. I also ride treeless with a Freemax Acavallo GP/Jump saddle which molds to the shape of the rider and the horse. We can feel each other, I’m learning to communicate through the saddle & it’s so comfy. At the moment I’m using a Libra Correction pad which appears to give spine clearance too. I used to have a Libratec treeless but as he changed shape this particular treeless could not accommodate his width at the withers (he is a Highland) I had thought that any treeless saddle could fit any horse but guess that some makes are more adaptable than others.

  11. Maggie

    I ride bareback πŸ˜€ I learned bareback, actually. I never rode with a saddle until I could gallop and jump bareback.

    After that, it was actually hard to get used to a saddle LOL πŸ˜€

    I was VERY thankful for my bareback experience when my horse took off and my feet fell out of the stirrups 😯

  12. vicki

    I’ve had three different treeless saddles for the last 10 years. I won’t use any other kind and nothing you tell me will make me change my mind. Treeless lets you feel the horses movements and will quickly let you know if there is some sort of lameness happening in the gait. I can’t see putting a piece of wood on my horses back ever again!

    1. karen

      Can you tell me what brand of saddle you have been using for 10 yrs. Don’t know where to start and do know the “rip off” brands! Thanks!

  13. Miriam Goodwin

    I ride shoeless, bitless and treeless. The only way to go! If only this metal-free environment would be accepted by the dressage world and I could compete equally with riders who believe (or have not thought about) metal for their equines.

    1. Bright

      Are the freeform dressage saddles not even allowed in dressage shows??? Pitiful, the option should be there to support both types of saddles.

  14. Emily

    These comments are killing me.
    No matter how you look at it or justify it, a treeless saddle simply DOESN’T offer the support that a regular saddle will.
    The native americans may have been excellent horsemen, but their horses only lived half as long as ours do now.

    To BEV, those people probably came off because they were bracing in the stirrups or were clamping their thighs for balance. Establishing balance (and keeping it) evenly on both seatbones would most definitely

    Geraldine says, ‘For the horse with a small saddle area sometimes treeless is the only answer.’
    Incorrect. Finding a purpose for the horse other than riding it is the only answer. Backyard breeding is the only thing responsible for that kind of physical limitation in a horse, and I’d rather send my horse to slaughter than subject him to a lifetime of me bouncing around in a treeless saddle on his back. can you even imagine that kind of torment? Horses are the most trusting, honest, and willing creatures we have on this planet, and it’s unfair to force them to put up with anything uncomfortable.

    My horse loves his saddle. When he sees it, his ears go forward, and he can hardly wait to get to work. He loves his job, and I can only hope that some of you have horses as happy as mine.

    1. bad_cook

      I’m late to the party, but I’m agreeing with the headdesk, but for a different reason.
      This is nitpicking, but I’m guessing the Native American tribe you want is the Comanche, not the Cherokee. Two totally different tribes in different regions with different cultures. It gets on my nerves that people hold up Native American cultures as ideal but know jack about them (most of them don’t know that there was more than one Native American culture).
      And you may not want to uphold the Comanche as ideal horsemen, because I’ve heard (but admittedly haven’t found evidence) that on long treks they would ride their horses to death and then eat them where they fell. I do know that the Comanche didn’t have a kindly reputation among other Native Americans, not just with white people.

    2. Lily

      have you even seen a slaughter house? i have, saying it’s like hell on earth is a massive understatement horses should never end up there. if anyone has a horse that can’t be ridden they can still teach you groundwork and how horses communicate. i have 2 horses rescued from slaughter and they have taught me so much.
      Also you aren’t “bouncing around in a treeless saddle on his back” if you actually know how to ride

      1. Sarah

        I agree Lily! To say you would rather send your horse to the slaughter house rather than riding with a treeless saddle is over kill. (no pun intended, it just happened) πŸ™„ And Lily is right, if you are a good rider who has learned how to ride from their seat and has learned how to balance properly, then you should have ZERO problems and NO bouncing around. This is not my opinion it’s fact. My old riding instructor never let any space come between her and her saddle or her and her horse. She rode changing between a tree saddle, a treeless saddle and bareback–it didn’t matter what she was doing because she used her seat and she used it well. I have seen this happen with all the great riders I know. Point being, if you learn how to use your seat properly, you won’t “bounce around”. And also bad_cook is correct; please do your research on Native American culture and riding before you go around spreading false ideas.
        As for riding treeless, I haven’t made the switch just yet. I am currently researching it all. But I am transitioning the horses I train to bitless, and you should see them; they are so happy. Granted on the first day they were a little wary, but then they adapted splendidly in no time! I love riding bitless and cannot wait to start riding treeless and riding bareback more often! πŸ™‚ Sorry for this long rant but it needed to be said. πŸ˜€

    3. I can’t imagine anyone who loves horses, or has spent any time with horses so casually refer to a slaughter house. Thank you, Lily, for your comments.

  15. Perhaps, treeless saddles would be best used for very good riders for shorter riding times, and saddles with trees would best be used by the rest of us who are not so good and there are a lot of riders who ride who are not so good!

  16. Bright

    I have enjoyed reading previous comments and appreciate some of the views for each side. I am 36 yrs old and have only been riding for 2 yrs, however, I do ride 3 to 5 times per week. I had an extremely difficult time finding a saddle for my first horse, a TWH, and ended up in a Freeform cascade. It was the best option for him and he was never sore. It had optional panels for when he was first purchased, underweight, and had no topline. But once he gained 200+ and became much more fit, I could remove the panels and the saddle still fit! Wanting to get back to walk, trot, canter…I found a good home for him and am bringing up a young Arabian. He is much smaller,constantly changing, and I am back in the same boat of trying to find the best saddle option for him. My model of freeform sits a bit higher and wider than I would like to sit, and am interested in getting a different model..maybe the classic. Currently, I am back in a very comfy lightweight western saddle, but really miss my treeless. I do think it helped my horse develop a better stride.

    It is important, as others have said, to do your research. All treed saddles are not ok for every horse, and all treeless saddles are not ok for every horse. Some saddles treed or not are not ok for ANY horse. Be careful and do your research. There is something to be said about learning about your saddle and where it puts weight and pressure on your horse. This is biomechanics, and for our horses sake, we must take this into account.

    Regards to bareback riding…I agree that it develops better balance and it definitely helped me!

    Can anyone help refer me to a treeless website or forum that lists used treeless/bitless for sale. I would like to sell my cascade, and look for my next treeless! I have it on Ebay right now. Thanks!!

  17. Morissa

    Truthfully I ride purely bareback. I only use a saddle for rodeos. Riding bareback with out a bareback pad or a saddle pad really improves your riding. Treeless saddles in my opinion are just like bareback pads. they have a cinch and stirrups. simple as that they dont really distribute weight much differently as a bareback pad. i understand using one if you are shorter/weak/overweight/too inexpirienced/scared/or unable to mount or swing onto a horse bare back. At my place when i get people over and i have them ride. they are not allowed to use a saddle untill I think that they are balanced enough. most the time by then, they are confident enough that they do not want to use the saddle.

  18. Anita

    Since I have started riding my mare with a treeless saddle she has stopped bucking completely. Can’t remember last time she bucked.

  19. Hilary

    I ride bareback, but when saddling, I ride in a torsion treeless and love it. However I think any treeless is only as good as the padding you put underneath it. I use a suber pad which is filled with cork granules, it moulds to the horses back, and also stops the saddle from slipping, its a great item to have. I also use a Haf pad to alternate, and it has pockets which have foam pads in, and I have added to this and put air panels in mine to increase the comfort for my horse. Its a winning combination and I wouldn’t ride in any other saddle/pad combination. πŸ˜€

  20. Hilary

    Oh and I forgot to say, I also ride bitless and my horse is barefoot too πŸ˜€

  21. Susan

    I firmly believe that any pressure put onto a horses spine causes severe pressure on certain points that will eventually cause deformities to a growing
    Spine. I have seen first hand exrays of what bare back riding can do and this is evident in young race horses (, especially 2 year olds when their knees and young spines have not yet matured )as they ride with treeless saddles. For thousand of years horses roamed without heavy weights on their spine then man came along and Conquered the horses. I love Roding my for legged friend but I waited until she was 3 years old before I had her broken in because I respected her growth pattern. Yes, I ride in a tree saddle which is comfortable for her and for me. I put my horses comfort before mine. …. Don’t you?

  22. Lisa

    I ride treeless 95% of the time,the odd-day out, I ride in a Western Saddle & also make sure I do bareback now&then. I have been riding tree’d saddles for many years before & since I swapped to my FreeForm Enduro with western fenders, I cannot turn back! It is an amazing saddle, I had it made with the short-back seat for my arbian: he loves it!!!

  23. Mel

    Nothing wrong with a treed saddle if you get one that actually fits your horse!!! When you buy your saddle take your horse along and tell the shop you want to try 2 or 3 to get the best fit . Any good saddlery will help you fit it and with the Ralide (leather trees) you will have a good confortable riding,roping,log pulling saddle .

  24. Viv

    Have been riding treeless for years. Originally in a Bob Marshall(made at that time by Circle Y W/permission by Bob Marshall. I LOVE riding this way and do major distance riding even 100miles with NEVER a sore back on any of my horses. Wore this saddle(15 years out, the rigging etc, and got another from Bob Marshall. They set the stirrups too far forward and needed to fix that. MUST SAY THIS, though, and I tell everyone who asks about the saddle. It should never be used by an inexperienced or heavy rider~by that I mean someone who rides heavy. Even a 115 lb. person can be a heavy rider.
    Looking to go bitless/perhaps sidepull which I have done.
    Hope this helps.

  25. I use a English treeless and love it I am 72 years old and rode in a lot of saddles but my treeless is the best

  26. Jan

    I have been using the Cashel Soft Saddle for three years now. (Not the current made soft saddle) I have four horses and I use the soft saddle on three of them and there are times I ride in the mountains for up to 22 miles. The three horses I use it on always looked relieved that I an not using their western saddles. Would not use western unless I have to like a sanctioned trail trials.

    1. Muddy

      Jan–how do you keep the G2 saddle from slipping?! I have a TWH and havn’the figured it out. Going back to my Endurance saddle.

  27. mary carey

    I ride bareback often, use a barefoot saddle, my horse is barefoot and bitless and I have the most amazing horse, happy forward moving and schooling is a pleasure he takes the frame just with a touch of the rein. In dressage his frame is perfect. Mary Carey South Africa

  28. donna

    I have a treeless Circle Y “Just B Natural” western saddle. I love treeless saddles and can’t imagine going back to a “treed” saddle.

  29. ponygirl

    I own five saddles one treeless…..i had a friend sit on my back with both….let me tell ya i definatley preferred treeless try it

  30. Emma

    I have come to the conclusion that a well fitted treed saddle is probably best. That is the issue-well fitted. Elusive and difficult to achieve at all times of year and throughout lifespan without changing saddles a lot. Other than that …the concept of treeless (spreading load as opposed to removing weight from spine with a tree) is likely next best thing.

  31. Sharon

    I showed reining horses and ranch horses for a couple of years, before that I was a trail and pleasure rider and always rode in a saddle, but as most kids I did learn bareback. A few years back I had a stroke, I am 72 years old and went to hippo therapy only to find that they use only bareback pads. I am back to riding and I am using a treeless saddle and bitless bridle. Before my stroke I was able to ride bitless and bareback through a complete reining pattern. Once a horse is trained PROPERLY he is trained, people tend to use bridles for balance they need to learn to ride with their body.

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