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The "Barefoot" Saddle: Evaluation of a treeless

By: Galadriel Billington

2:37AM Jul 24, 2004

Barefoot SaddleI had brief possession of a demo "Barefoot" treeless saddle, a demo model. I had a chance to get a pretty good look at it, and see how and how well it functioned.

The purpose of a saddle is to distribute the rider's weight evenly along the better weight-bearing surfaces on the horse's back. In short, what that means is:
  • No pressure points
  • Even pressure where the saddle meets the surface of the horse's back (all along the length of the panels or bars)
  • Spine clearance (no weight is directly on the horse's spine)
  • The weight of the rider and the saddle rest on the large fleshy muscle above the ribs (well away from the spine)
  • The weight of the saddle is centered above the horse's ribcage: not too far forward, not too far back.
  • The saddle overall provides a stable connection between the rider and the horse
  • Often the rider's comfort is important, too ;)

With a traditional (treed) saddle, it can be hard to achieve all of the above. If the saddle doesn't fit well, it may cause pressure points; the weight may be centered badly; it may sit directly on or too close to the spine.

The idea of a treeless is to eliminate the part of the saddle which must be well-fitted to the horse. The saddle tree has a rigid shape, which may or may not match the shape of a horse's back. A treeless saddle, then, tries to embody the weight distribution qualities of the treed saddle, without the drawbacks. Their design intends them to be soft enough to conform to the curves of the horse's back, but firm enough to provide spine clearance.

I was able to learn a lot about the pressure under the Barefoot by examining my (bleached clean) white saddle pad. Unfortunately the pictures didn't come out well (my horses were too clean!) but there were visible dirt marks that gave me a lot of information. We tried the Barefoot on some horses with very different back shapes, and we were able to come to some conclusions about how it fit.

Type of Horse Pressure Points Even Pressure along the Panels or Bars Wither/Spine Clearance Adequate Gullet Width Rider Centered over Ribcage Stability Rider Comfort Horse's Reaction
Broad Backed
Short Back
None Pressure directly under rider's seat (no) Yes Questionable Yes Demo girth was too long; with too loose girth, no stability.
Saddle might have been more stable with tighter girth.
Rider pleased with size of seat and feel of saddle. Moved more freely, didn't spook or bolt.
(big difference)
Medium-high wither
Long back
Broad back
None Pressure directly under rider's seat (no) Yes Questionable Yes Rider could mount from the ground without turning the saddle. Different feeling from rider's normal A/P saddle, but comfortable. No difference from (well fitting) "treed" saddle.
Horse had fluid, forward movement.
High, narrow wither
Short back
Narrow back
Saddle bottomed out on wither.
Rubbed on spine.
Pressure directly under rider's seat (no) No-- Saddle bottomed out on wither.
Rubbed on spine.
No Yes Could mount from ground. Hard to say--horse was too antsy. Lack of forward movement
Resistance to flexion
General resistance and distress

Added January 2005:
The Barefoot now comes with a choice of pommel arches: the regular which was previously available, and also a wide and a narrow. It is possible that with a narrow, the Barefoot might have fit the TB with the high, narrow wither.
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.