How can you tell if a saddle tree is broken or cracked? There are several warning signs — a crease in the leather on the seat, a popping or clicking sound when you’re riding, or too much flexibility in the saddle when you manipulate it. If you suspect your saddle has a broken tree (or you’re looking to buy a used saddle that might be compromised), stop riding in it. Riding with a broken tree can end up injuring your horse’s back because the saddle will no longer distribute the rider’s weight evenly. Don’t risk vet bills or chiropractic bills!
Of course the definitive way to evaluate the integrity of a tree is to have a saddler open up the saddle and evaluate it, but that can cost $300-$500 because it involves dropping the panels. If you’re looking to buy a used saddle, or have an older saddle that you suspect might have a broken tree, that may be more than you are willing to spend.
The video below shows two ways to evaluate whether a saddle has a broken tree. Remember, a small amount of give probably isn’t an issue, especially if it’s a spring tree, but if you feel you can fold the saddle, then the tree is typically suffering from a horizontal break. If there is too much movement when you flex the saddle side to side by the pommel, you may have a broken head plate or a crack along the gullet.
This video shows you the tree alone and in a saddle. I think it provides the best understanding of what should and should not happen with a saddle tree.
What causes a Tree to Break?
Trees can break for a variety of reasons: Maybe a horse has rolled or flipped onto its saddle. Or, if the tree was widened, it could have been weakened by twisting or torsion in the saddle press. Even using a narrow saddle on a wider horse can eventually strain the gullet plate and loosen the gullet plate — which could cause excessive flexing or cracking and might even eventually snap the metal.
Can you have a broken tree fixed or replaced?
You can’t fix a broken tree and most saddlers will not replace them either. Not only is it a very labor-intensive process — figure $800-$900 for the repair) but you would need to have the exact same tree, so if it’s an older saddle you might not be able to even find the right tree. Unfortunately, a broken tree typically means the end of the saddle’s useful life.
I bought a saddle once that ended up having a broken tree — a horizontal break in the gullet. It didn’t fold when you flexed it, but it had too much movement when you flexed the pommel, along with a nasty squeak. It was a shame because cosmetically it was in nice shape.
Have you ever had a saddle with a broken tree? What broke it?
2 thoughts on “How to tell if your saddle has a broken tree”
I have not had a saddle with a broken tree, but, in my work as a massage therapist, I usually look at the saddle, especially when the horse tells me his back hurts. I learned a third way to test a saddle: Place it on its side, doesn’t matter which, and push where your legs would go. If it bends easily, it’s broke.
Sorry to say, a broken tree means a useless saddle, suitable only for painting, as in one of your earlier posts, or hanging on the wall at some kitschy restaurant.
There are people out there who will attempt to sell a saddle with a broken tree. Only once have I run into that situation, and I was so tempted to ‘inadvertantly’ slash the panels with a box knife to keep it from being sold…but I didn’t.
When buying a used saddle, it is definitely Caveat Emptor, “Buyer beware”, although the vast majority of company reps (e.g, Albion) are reputable, as are shops. There is no reason to not check a used saddle\ like this before buying.
I’m sorry to hear you got skunked on a broken saddle…but your post is a good one. Thank you!
Luckily that saddle experience was many years ago. As I recall it was a Berney Brothers saddle — very nice except for the broken tree!