Soon after I sold a couple of saddles, the itch to try something new started. I’ve always wanted to try a Sensation Treeless saddle, but they are made in Canada so there haven’t been a lot of opportunities to try one. So, when a woman in Western Massachusetts advertised two for sale . . . and she was willing to drive halfway to meet me . . . and to let me take at least one on trial . . . how could I refuse?
To the equestrian reader it probably doesn’t sound that unusual to drive 50 minutes to meet a stranger in a parking lot and look at saddles. The lady was very nice and helpful. She brought a saddle stand so I could try sitting in the saddles (yes, I got a couple of strange looks). She had two models: a Western Sport (which was more like an endurance saddle) and a Hybrid, which is a cross between an English and and Endurance.
Since only the Sport saddle was in my budget, the choice on which to try was clear. But even without the financial motivation, I wasn’t crazy about the way the pommel tilts back toward the rider on the Hybrid. Even sitting on a stationary stand it felt too restrictive. Lots of people seem to like this style and even go for very tall cantles, but I like to be able to move a bit more. The pommel on the Western Sport was more vertical.
Zelda is the ideal horse for treeless saddles. She’s broad backed but has some withers; Freedom is a trickier fit because his spine is more prominent. This model of the Sensation doesn’t have external panels (newer ones do), so it’s important to use a special pad to make sure you don’t put too much pressure on your horse’s spine. More on that later, but I use a Saddleright pad on Zelda.
I’ve only ridden in a Western saddle a few times. My first reactions when trying the Western Sport were mixed. I really liked the security of the saddle but I found the pommel annoying. I needed to play with my stirrup lengths to make it work for me.
The good part was that right from the start I found the saddle to be quite secure on Zelda’s back. It can be tricky with treeless saddles because the rigidity of the tree is what helps hold them in place. This one feels like you’re staying put. I don’t mount from the ground (whether or not the saddle would stay put is immaterial. I’m no longer flexible enough to do it.)
By ride three I was starting to enjoy the position more — I discovered that fenders absolutely rock (no pinching from your stirrup leathers) and I also had no pain in my knee or ankle — something I’ve battled since my accident. Based on the painfree riding experience, I decided to keep the saddle. Sure, I won’t be foxhunting in it any time soon, but it’s a great trailriding saddle.
Another feature of the Sensation design is that that the stirrups attach using a multi-point array weight distribution system. Essentially, although the stirrup attaches at the top of the saddle, there is also an attachment at the bottom of the flap which distributes your weight over more of the saddle. As a heavier rider, this has always been a concern of mine when riding in a treeless saddle. Certainly I’ve seen no indication from Zelda that the saddle bothers her and her back is never sore after a ride.
As for the concept that treeless saddles will fit any horse, it doesn’t quite work like that. While Zelda is a good body shape for treeless (and her fluxuating weight makes treeless an attractive option), Freedom is more A-shaped. I’ve tried this saddle on him and he was unimpressed. I think that part of the problem is that he’s shorter than Zelda. The saddle really dwarfs him. The treeless saddle that worked the best on him was the Freeform, which has a more rigid structure than the other treeless saddles I’ve tried.
Have you tried treeless yet? What do you and your horse think?