The timing of this topic is very à propos – I was just at the National Championships of the IALHA (International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association) in Dallas Texas. These horses especially need to have saddles to accommodate freedom over the withers to allow their huge moving shoulders to really work. Whereas in Thoroughbreds you often have the paradox of ‘narrow wide trees’ (to accommodate narrow shoulders but big withers) with these Iberian horses you have usually no or small withers and really wide shoulders.

Virtually everyone knows that trees come in narrow, medium, and wide widths. But what do these terms actually mean? Every saddlemaker seems to have their own definition of what constitutes these measurements. And what will a saddle do to your horse when your horse is in motion if the tree has the incorrect width?

The tree width must be wide enough for the horse’s shoulders to rotate freely under the tree. But too often we see a saddle with a tree width that is too narrow for a particular horse. Not only can your horse’s shoulders not move freely under such a saddle, but the saddle can be driven forward on top of his shoulders as he is being ridden. This will result in all of the problems we’ve already discussed in previous saddle fit tips. Trying to make a saddle fit where the tree is too narrow by adding more padding is akin to wearing another pair of socks to make your shoes fit if they’re already too tight – it doesn’t work! (But unfortunately I often see riders doing this in an effort to make a particular saddle fit!)

If the tree width is too wide, the entire saddle may rock or slip from side to side when it’s being ridden, or the back half of the saddle may twist to one side or the other. (But this may also happen when one side – usually the left – is more heavily muscled than the other, forcing the saddle then over to the other side in compensation)

Why should saddle makers and saddle fitters consider both tree width and tree angle when fitting a saddle to a particular horse? Tree width and tree angle need to be adjusted together. If the width of your saddle’s tree is correct for your horse, but the angle is incorrect, the saddle will not fit your horse. Conversely, if the angle is alright, but the width is not, the same will happen. Adding flocking to or removing flocking from the vertical panels of the saddle will not solve the problem – it is the gullet plate that needs to be adjusted. Some of the self-adjustable gullet plates will accommodate angle adjustment, but will not allow width adjustment (over the wither area). At times both the width and angle of the saddle’s tree are incorrect for a particular horse. As we discussed in Saddle Fit Tip 8 – Tree Angle, this can cause permanent, long-term damage to your horse.

A properly fitted saddle will have a tree that is wide enough and an angle that is correctly adjusted so as to avoid hitting the spinalis muscle. This is also a reflex point that inhibits or completely stops forward movement. Remember - when a stallion breeds a mare, he bites her on this reflex point so that she stands still, hollows her back, and rotates her pelvis open. In order to locate your horse’s spinalis muscle, draw a line 4” down from the base of your horse’s withers, and then draw a horizontal line back. The saddle must stay off of that triangle - we call this the ‘triangle of doom’ if you want to get really dramatic about it – but the thought is valid; if you pinch the horse in this triangle, you doom him to pain and you will not move forward (at least not very well or very willingly).

Please watch the following video to demonstrate the importance of "Tree Width" when properly fitting a saddle.

Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE

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