First, as an introduction, I want to relate my ideas on riding in treeless saddles. Several decades ago, stuck riding in just a few pastures and facing a long, hot, boring summer, I decided to ride bareback all summer. Luckily for my horse I had read “Stable Management and Exercise” by M. Horace Hayes. On page 342 he writes “A groom should not be allowed to ride without a saddle, because, by doing so, he is apt to give the animal a sore back.” Elsewhere I read that the pressure of the rider’s seat bones could cause calluses on the horse’s back that would interfere badly with subsequent saddle use. Since I had accidentally learned that if my legs were bare my security bareback increased tenfold I had the luxury of being able to experiment with my riding. Before, during my brief bareback rides I had sort of slouched on the horse’s back, but now I decided to ride Forward Seat bareback, hard since I did not have stirrups but not impossible. Making sure all summer that I did not keep my seat bones in one place for an extended period of time, I had great fun pretending to be a centaur, at one with my horse. Hat Tricks had no problems with his back from my summer of riding bareback and I had no problems with him when I put the saddle back on in the fall.
As I told Debbie and Shannon, we cannot ride in the treeless saddles by just planting our seat bones down in one place and never moving them. This can be hard on a horse even when in a treed saddle when the saddle has a good tree and fits properly, it can cause horrible soreson the horse's back with treeless saddles. Fortunately I ride Forward Seat, so I never just plant my seat bones down and never move them, I frequently shift my “sitting point” forward and back between the front and back of my saddle’s sitting area. I do this riding in a treed saddle, bareback, and now with the treeless saddle.
When I got back into riding I had looked into the treeless saddles since I knew I would be riding many different horses. I DID NOT LIKE what I saw and read back then, there was no structure, some manufacturers did not think it important to keep the saddle off the horse’s spine, the stirrups looked like they were hung all wrong, and they were just simply the UGLIEST saddles I had ever seen. What struck me about the EZ-fit treeless is that this treeless saddle addressed all of my objections to the treeless saddles I had researched before, there is spine clearance, the saddle is made not to slip around on the horse‘s back, and I can hang the stirrups where it is best for my riding. And since the EZ-fit treeless does not pretend to be something it isn’t, it looks just fine.
Twelve days ago I received my EZ-fit treeless saddle. Since then I have gotten to ride in it just two times on two different horses. Apparently I picked up a head cold visiting my grandson (and son and daughter-in-law) and since the 15th of March I have been too sick to ride (head colds are very hard on people with MS!) I did get the saddle out to the best tack store around here (60 mile round trip) the day I got it, where the store’s owner said it was the most comfortable treeless saddle she had sat on when we tried it out on her sturdy saddle stand.
The next day I was fortunate, I was having my lesson! I decided to use my Spirit bitless bridle so I would not accidentally lost my balance and hit Mick’s mouth. Debbie and I spent around 20 minutes figuring out the best padding for Mick and getting the saddle girthed up. Fortunately I had brought 3 dressage girths out, because as this treeless saddle got girthed up we quickly found out that our first choice of girth length was too long. Debbie noted that Mick did not do any threatening gestures the whole time we were tightening the girth. Then, as we walked to the riding ring, I asked Debbie to get on first since I was starting to feel unsteady physically. Of course we used a mounting block to get up in this saddle, and I noticed no shifting of the saddle when Debbie used the stirrup to mount which surprised me since the girth was not super tight. As she rode off I noticed that she was in a chair seat, the way that the stirrups were positioned forward made that inevitable. Fortunately on this treeless saddle I can adjust where the stirrup leather harness goes. Debbie was worried at first that the pommel area was too low on Mick‘s withers, but I was able to easily put my finger down the top of Mick’s wither with Debbie in the saddle, though I will use a bit more padding the next time. Mick looked relaxed, he was moving with more impulse and he had a nice cheerful look on his face. Then I got to get on, again the saddle did not shift as I mounted, and I started walking Mick around. I felt quite secure, I did not switch my RS-tor to the treeless since I hadn’t figured out how to hook it up, but I felt so secure that I did not miss it.
I noticed Mick’s back movement a lot more. It did not take long at all to get his back “swinging” gently at the walk. The treed jumping saddles are made to put the rider over the part of the horse’s back that moves the least, because of the way the treeless saddles are made the rider sits further back on the horse’s back where there is more motion. Combined with Mick’s increased impulse this lead to a somewhat bumpy ride when I tried the sitting trot. My seat felt like there was STRUCTURE to this treeless saddle, at no time did I feel like I was on a bareback pad. I had some problems with my tummy running into the rather higher-than-I-am-used-to pommel when I did two-point and the posting trot, just another sign that the stirrup harness had to be moved back some. I found that I needed only about a third of my usual leg aids to get Mick moving out.
Near the end of my lesson the stable’s dressage rider came out to ride in the riding ring. I asked her if she wanted to try my new saddle out and she said yes. She liked my saddle just fine, she liked the structure under her seat, she liked where the saddle put her seat, she liked that there was a “rider’s groove”, and she liked how secure she felt in it. Poor Mick, he had to carry three different riders in my thirty minute lesson, but he behaved well for all of us. When we took the saddle off I felt no heat and detected no soreness on Mick’s back.
On Friday I was starting to feel the effects of my cold but I wanted groom Mia, rasp her toes down, and to at least fit the treeless saddle to Mia. When I was in the process Debbie came up and offered to ride Mia first. So we went out to the ring, again the saddle did not shift at all when Debbie mounted, and I got to see Debbie ride Mia. Just like Mick, Mia had a bright cheerful expression on her face and strode forth willingly. When Debbie got off I climbed on though I was not really feeling well enough to ride. I got the same results, Mia’s back “swung” gently under the saddle and I could get away with using a lot less force and frequency in my leg aids and her trot felt like it had more impulse. I was just too weak and unsteady to do much more than a walk and one trot, so I got off early, let my son do everything for Mia, went home and collapsed.
After a few days I finally got strong enough to try and move the stirrup harness back on my new saddle. The EZ-fit treeless saddle is held together by Velcro, lots and lots of Velcro in many layers. To get to the stirrup harness I had to undo the five buckles that hold the seat over the cantle, and peel the seat forward way, way up toward the pommel. I struggled with the tenacious Velcro and finally got the seat far enough up so I could peel the Velcroed cover over the stirrup harness back, then I had to peel the Velcroed stirrup harness off the saddle and move it back around half an inch. Then I got the Velcroed cantle off the saddle and moved it back around half an inch, there was not any room on the saddle to move it back further. If I had wanted to I also could have moved the girth harness to wherever I wanted it. Putting everything back together was much easier since I just had to make sure there were no wrinkles and gently press the layers of Velcro together and do up the five buckles holding the seat leather over the cantle. When I told Debbie what I had done she got excited and told me she was all ready to try it next Wednesday for my lesson.
When Eli Beiler, the designer and maker of the EZ-fit treeless saddles, confirmed my order he told me that it would take at least 8 hours of riding to break in the saddle, and that until I got the saddle broken in I would not be able to tell how it really feels. Well, there is a two week trial period, I’ve gotten to ride the grand total of less than an hour in the saddle and it is not broken in yet. I am still going to go ahead and pay for it, making it mine, mine, MINE! There is just sooooo much I can adjust with this saddle, I can move the panels to make the gullet wider or narrower, I can move the stirrup harness and girth harness back and forth to my heart’s desire, and I got Eli’s special made pad in which I can put Cashel pads in to make the saddle fit even better. The lining of the saddle and the pad is a “waffle weave” synthetic, with lots and lots of air holes for ventilation, which grips the horse enough so that saddle does not seem to shift at all. I am having a little bit of trouble with the stirrup leather set up, instead of the stirrups leathers attaching right below the pommel they are hung on a ring at the bottom of the panels, and the stirrup leathers that came with the saddle are long on me, and several inches of strap hung below my stirrups when I got the leathers short enough for me to ride. Since the leathers are lined with nylon so they won’t stretch, but it makes cutting them down to my size sort of complicated. I am using safety stirrups of course (Peacock’s) since there is no way a stirrup leather can slip off an enclosed ring. The billet straps, again lined with nylon, are different too, the front one comes down from the regular position just behind the withers, but the rear billet slopes forward from a ring near the cantle. The English version of the EZ-fit saddle uses dressage girths, and it works best with dressage girths that have some sort of strap or elastic end leading to the buckles on both sides since the rear billet is at such a weird angle. The saddle is made of harness leather, nice and sturdy. The panels, pommel and cantle are made of “closed cell foam” that was developed by NASA and there is a type of stiffener used on the top of the arch of the pommel but the far ends behind the horse’s shoulders flex to fit the horse. The closed cell foam slowly forms itself to the horse, or if you are in a hurry the rider can make the pommel wider or narrower by sheer strength.
Whichever girth you think is short enough by just measuring against the billet straps of the saddle resting on the horse’s back, that girth probably will be too long. As the girth is tightened the saddle settles down on the horse’s back and the closed foam pommel and cantle start to adjust to the horse’s back. I had to go one girth size down on Mick and Mia, and I am going to have to buy more girths! When I finally buy 6-8 more girth sizes to the 11 I already own I will be able to fit just about any saddle on any horse and have the right length girth if I get a girth extender for horses with super big barrels.
I like this treeless saddle. I suspect that I will end up LOVING this treeless saddle when I finally get it broken in and everything adjusted right. The horses seem to feel quite comfortable in this treeless saddle. Since Debbie has agreed to let me use it on her horses until it gets broken in she will prevent me from getting into any bad habits right from the start. YEAH!!!!!
You can see more about the EZ-fit treeless saddle at ezfittreelesssaddles.com.
Have a great ride!