In many ways, the treeless saddle solves a lot of saddle fitting problems. I can’t tell you how many people I see riding in saddles that are either perched on their horse’s backs like party hats or sitting right down on their withers. The pain caused by an ill-fitting saddle can cause your horse to stop wanting to move forward, or provoke behavior like bucking.
However, an integral part of fitting a treeless saddle is the pad, because the saddle itself doesn’t have the internal structure (the tree) to protect the horse’s spine and the associated nerves. So, once you have the saddle, you also need the right pad. And that can depend on your horse’s shape as well.
Some treeless saddles now have external panels. Ghost saddles, for example, have panels that create a channel similar to those of a treed saddle. However, my saddle fitter still felt more comfortable if I used an additional pad to help make sure my horse’s spine was protected.
I bought a Ghost pad when I purchased my saddle, but for Zelda, it was too much padding. Instead of feeling close to her, I felt like I floated above her. I also felt the saddle wasn’t stable enough. It fit differently on Freedom who isn’t as wide. With this saddle I used either a thick wool pad or an English SaddleRight pad.
My Sensation Western Sport, does not have external panels (although the newer models have that option). It has foam inserts inside the panels, but you definitely need extra protection. In terms of protection and stability, I like using a SaddleRight pad. They are made with a special core material
that doesn’t compress or degrade over time and yet is thin enough that it doesn’t make you feel perched.
The pad I bought is a barrel racing style with Turquoise blue suede on top (very snazzy on Zelda) and wool on the bottom. The downside to these pads is that they are wicked expensive. New, the pad runs $350. Yup, I’ve bought saddles that cost less than that. Now, in their defense, the company offers a lifetime trade back program — send in your old pad and get a new one for 50% off. I’ve read about people who buy old ones off eBay and then trade them in! Mine is used and came from a SaddleRight group on Facebook.
Of course, once you’ve spent that much money on a pad, God forbid it gets dirty! Many people use a liner pad, like a think Navajo blanket. I happened to already own a SupraCore endurance pad and so I use that to protect my investment. The SupraCore pads help with heat dispersal and shock absorption and have the added benefit of being easy to clean. I use the English half pads under my jumping saddles. Now, I wouldn’t run out and buy one just for this use because they are expensive, but if you already own one, they are the ideal under pad.
In this configuration, not only is Zelda’s back protected, but the saddle is very stable and I still get the close contact feel.