That's so interesting, because in the US, treeless saddles are being used at the highest levels of endurance competitions:
2007 Winner of Tevis Cup uses a Freeform treeless saddle:http://freeformusa.blogspot.com/2007/07 ... h-haf.html
2004 Winner of Tevis Cup -- same guy, same saddlehttp://freeformusa.blogspot.com/2006/04 ... inner.html
(If you're not familiar with the Tevis Cup, it's amazing. 100 mile endurance ride in 24 hours through incredibly tough territory -- I think these people are NUTS!!!
Here's a Wikipedia article about it -- check out the photo! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tevis_Cup
From Barefoot Saddles website:
I ride endurance / go on long trail rides / spend long hours mustering - is there anything I need to know? A must read for the endurance rider
The Barefoot Cheyenne, Barefoot Cherokee and the Freeform saddles are widely used for long hours in the saddle over tough terrain. Both brands of saddles have proven themselves amongst competitive endurance riders here and overseas. Both brands of saddles have been used by riders in the Tom Quilty Cup, the Shazadah, the NSW, Vic, W.A., Tassie and Qld State Championships and many other rides. The Freeform was used by the 2007 heavyweight winner of the US Tevis Cup. Yes here in Australia we had winners of rides and numerous 'best conditioned horse' too.
For endurance and CTR riders we recommend to invest in our Physio pad for high withered horses or the Equipedic pad for broader horses with low to medium size withers. Yes you can also use the standard Grandeur pad but you will need minimum 18mm of the superior inserts. The foam inserts of the Grandeur pads will need to be checked for compression regularly and replacements need to be ordered if the foam is visibly squashed anywhere, see 'saddle pads' page. Some riders also use an additional sheepskin between the Grandeur pad and the saddle. Most competitive riders own more than one therapeutic saddle pad and alternate those between legs on the rides. Many endurance riders use D Lua Park woolpad or a sheepskin under our therapeutic pads with great results. Besides needing additional layers of padding or a superior saddle pad, the endurance rider using a Barefoot saddle needs to give the horse intervals with very little or no weight in the stirrups for at least 10 minutes of every hour. This can be done in a walk or canter with your buttocks in the saddle or while you lead your horse. The weightshift of the rider allows circulation to return to areas on the horse's back under potential stress from two pointing. These changes of rider position are beneficial to your horse no matter what saddle you are using, think of shifting a backpack while hiking, yep that feels good. Endurance riders who stick to these few rules have a wonderful and trouble free time and usually go with straight A's for back condition through the vetchecks, yes also on 160km rides.
If you are a novice to horse riding please make sure you ride with enough padding and that you work on your balance. An unbalanced riding position due to untrained rider muscles or if you ride with more weight in one stirrup than the other can make horses very sore no matter what saddle you use. It is the opinion of the author that riders need to be extremely 'riding fit' and have a very good and balanced seat before they attempt any endurance rides. It is just not fair on the horses to ask top athletic performance if you can not assist the horse to achieve and maintain it. Schooling of the endurance horse to get off the forehand and to relax the back muscles while under saddle is essential to keeping your horse sound - no matter what saddle you use. You can tell who is riding their horse properly by the end of the endurance season, the horses who loose all topline instead of building it while doing massive amounts of work are not ridden in a competent way. Those riders would be well advised to get some help regarding proper training of horses under saddle and on the ground. No saddle will be able to prevent damage to the horses back if an endurance horse is not ridden properly, you create less damage with a treeless saddle but we still strongly encourage you to work on your own riding and training skills.
The Freeform saddle has superior shockabsorbtion and weight distribution, breaks from two pointing are still recommended. The Freeform is suitable for light, middle and heavy weight riders. Generally we recommend the Cheyenne and Cherokee saddle for light weight and middleweight endurance riders only, the Freeform is recommended for endurance riders up to 90kg.
Everything is carried on my back!
(By horse physiology specialist S. Ullmann)
Good riding technique as well as sound training of the horse is extremely important for the horseâ€™s back. Here, the actual type of riding involved is irrelevant while the anatomical and physiological requirements of the horse are much more significant. In this context, the importance of using the correct equipment, especially choosing the right kind of saddle, cannot be emphasized enough.
The thoracic section of the horseâ€™s vertebral column is not created naturally for carrying the weight of the rider. The aim of schooling must therefore be to build up the horseâ€™s muscles so that it is able to carry our weight without suffering injury.
A horse only becomes a true riding horse when it has learnt to lift its back under saddle. If this motion sequence is hindered by a saddle that sits wrongly and is rigid or by the rider sitting too far back in the saddle (beyond T14), the horse cannot move its back properly. A rider leaning forward will discourage engagement of the hindquarters while rider's leaning behind the vertical, riding in a 'chair seat' create a 'dead weight' on their horses backs. The BAREFOOT saddles encourage the rider to sit straight which makes it easier for the horse to engage the abdominal muscles and to bring the hindquarters under. This is the best possible scenario to build and maintain the muscles needed to carry the riders weight without compromising soundness.
The BAREFOOT and Freeform saddles positions the rider over the horseâ€™s center of gravity, thoracic vertebrae 9-13. This creates the optimum horse welfare conditions for riding. However, the BAREFOOT and FREEFORM saddles cannot replace correct riding technique and schooling!
There is also some very interesting data from Heather Moffat-- she researched pressure points from stirrups Here's a piece she wrote (I've bolded her statement about stirrup pressure):
With reference to the article in ETN News, June issue, regarding treeless saddles, as a manufacturer of one of the leading brands, I would like to comment. Firstly, I am not at all against well fitting/made treed saddles, having been a designer of them for many years before turning to treeless. I hired the Pliance system for a month when testing my own saddles for pressure, but also took the opportunity to test most of the other treeless brands on the market, along with a number of treed saddles, most of which had been fitted by qualified fitters.
As a classical dressage trainer and remedial riding trainer first and foremost, I was especially interested in how the way in which the rider sat, and interacted with the movement of the horse, also affected the pressure and therefore, the efficacy of the saddle. I experimented with a number of different riders and horses, at varying levels of riding, and my findings were as I suspected. I could easily see how the rider was sitting, and especially the way in which they absorbed the movement of the horse, by the moving pressure patterns on the computer screen, without even having to look at the caption.
I have always taught the rider to sit deeply, but lightly, synchronising their own movement with that of the horse, producing a quiet, elegant classical seat, ideally placed to give effective but invisible aids.
The pressure patterns in both well fitting treed and treeless saddles were similar, when the rider absorbed the movement in this way, with the rider being very light ( light pressure showing up as dark blue through to slight pressure, light blue) in the saddle and an even pressure pattern. When the rider started to â€˜driveâ€™ with the seat, so often seen in the dressage arena, and the cause of the flailing lower legs and nodding heads to be seen as well!- the pressure patterns altered radically, with ripples of red, showing considerable pressure, moving from the back of the saddle to the front in both sitting trot and canter. In rising trot, when the rider came behind the movement- far more obvious in treed saddles as the stirrup bars were further forward than on the treeless saddles- the pressure on the cantle region was immense, and stopped the horse moving forwards. This was also evident when the rider tried to remain too upright in rising trot, and had to thrust the pelvis back and forth to catch up with the movement.
Treed saddles with the stirrup bars recessed to avoid them sticking into the legs of the rider, showed far more pressure under the bars, than any of the treeless makes we tested, all of which came out very favourably in the tests we carried out, when used with the recommended pads and accessories. The photo, below, shows a pony who had been ridden in a brand new, well known make of treed saddle, fitted by a qualified person, for nine months. The recessed bars had caused this lump and white mark. The owner bought one of my saddles and the second photo shows the same pony after one year in the Fhoenix.
Infuriatingly, the moving pressure patterns of the Pliance system, were unable to be stored once the months software licence ran out, with only the static patterns being left. The equipment broke down at the end of the second week of testing and had to be sent back to Germany for repair, so did not help our programme either. However, I would love to be able to afford to buy the equipment, as I think that it is invaluable to be able to prove to a rider how their bad riding affects the performance of both saddle and horse!
I researched the history of treeless saddles a couple of years ago, and found enough examples worldwide, to fill a book. They have been around since the Scythian Army, 2400 BC. I rode on a Barnsby treeless saddle as a child and had always thought that the idea of having a completely flexible saddle made a lot of sense. My own Fhoenix saddles are far more structured than other â€˜treelessâ€™ makes, in that the tree is replaced by layers of shock and pressure absorbing materials, forming a â€˜SoftTreeâ€™
as we term it, and with a gullet and panels, giving the feeling of a normal twist, and a similar support and stability for the rider, yet complete flexibility and comfort for the horse.
The bottom line has to be that the modern generation of treeless saddles has been around now for ten years, and their popularity is increasing.Ten years is enough time for problems to have shown up, and there are remarkably few reports of treeless saddles causing damage, far from it.
I agree that some treeless manufacturers have been very damning of treed saddles, just as plenty of treed manufacturers have been pretty damning of treeless saddles - â€˜pot calling the kettle blackâ€™, methinks!!
Some horses do not like the feel of a treeless saddle, and there are many others who clearly do go better without a rigid structure on their back. So there is room for both, and the sooner all parties work together, instead of trying to prove that â€˜this is betterâ€™, or â€˜that is betterâ€™, the sooner the horse will benefit!