“SADDLE SAVVY” … an ongoing series of articles geared to help you understand how to select the appropriate saddle for you & your horse.

by Kaaren Jordan

The following is a case study with pictures, analysis, and suggestions of possible tree & treeless saddles with accessories that are the best choices for horse & rider.


In the last issue, one of Gina’s other horses, Amistad, was featured.

Reveille is a 3 yo Arabian mare weighin in at approximately 850 lbs. 7 standing 14.2H tall. She has been comfortably barefoot as an un-started horse and lives in a large pasture with a few other mares in the Texas Hill Country. She has no health or injury history, exhibiting a pleasant, easy attitude both with other horses and with humans.

Gina is 40yo and weighs about 126lbs at 5’4″. Her inseam is approx. 30″ with an equal thigh and lower leg length. She has spinal compression issues that flare up with too much riding or lifting. Gina also works full time with a 45 minute communte which prevents her from riding during the winter months except on weekends.

Gina’s property is typical of the Hill Country covered with small to large rocks. Their outdoor arena has a sandy,clay footing.

Reveille has been lightly started at home by Gina in the Fall/Winter of 2010 year. This consisted of a some ground work followed by a few lunging sessions saddled with a 14.5 ” seat/ Martin full quarter horse bar Western saddle and a Won Pad underneath. Gina has also been onboard a few times for 10-15 minutes at the walk.

Since the Martin saddle is a bit too long for Reveille’s back length and slides forward onto her neck with only the very short rides, Gina has wisely decided to do only groundwork until a suitable saddle can be found.

Once Gina has found a suitable saddle to fit both of them, she would like to slowly start the mare with perhaps the help of a TTEAM practitioner. Eventually she would like to do a combination of dressage and Western pleasure for an hour a few times a week with occasional short trail rides off the property.


Reveille is a growing girl hopefully in a transitory slightly croup high stage. She has a broad, round , slightly short back with low whithers. Her goirth groove is long and undefined with a straighter shoulder which can set the stage for a saddle that tends to creep forward…which is something Gina has already experienced. Since the mare is not yet fully developed and does not have a lot of muscle, this too will hopefully change over the next few years as she is ridden and taught how to use herself and carry a rider in a biomechanically supportive way.

Note: In the first photo of Reveille, side view standing untacked, Gina has told me this is not her usual way of standing. The flash from the camera startled her and Gina did not want to stress her that day by taking more photos. Shortly after the photos were taken Gina found out she has a serious health project, so no more photos were able to be taken for the article.


* Rounded broad back with low whithers

* Great attitude

* No injury or emotional trauma history

* Has a caring, patient person that is well matched in size,weight and riding expectations


* Slightly short back length

* Long, un-defined girth groove combined with a straighter shoulder

* Growing young mare who will be going through many phases of change conformationally during the next few years


* Well matched to Reveille’s size and build

* Caring & patient willing to take time to start this mare at a pace she needs

* Appropriate riding activity, ride times and frequency expectations


* Limited time to work with Reveille consistently during the winter months except on weekends

* Low back issues


1) Explore working with a TTEAM/Connected Riding approach to start Reveille doing groundwork & ground driving before starting under saddle.

2) Have an equine bodyworker/chiropractor check Reveille every few months during her “starting up” program.

3) Pony Reveille tacked up with a reliable equine friend around the property.

4) Look into some bodywork/chiropractic/Feldenkrais for Gina as well as Connected Riding workshops. Eileen Bach Y Rita, an experienced Feldenkrais practitioner who also works with riders, has a tape set called “Feldenkrais At Home”. They are available as i-pod downloads as well as CD’s through

5) Always wear a safety helmut when riding, especially on young horses even if you only intend to sit on the horse. Accidents can happen all too quickly with horses of any age.


Reveille has a back type, even at her young age, that is well suited to several brands of treeless saddles if padded appropriately. Since she is a young, growing horse who will go through many conformation changes in the coming years, a treeless saddle with a good padding system and an array of shims may be the better choice over treed saddles because of the adjustability.

Her nicely rounded, broad back coupled with Gina’s lighter weight also is a great match for some of the treeless brands. In treed saddles, there are only a few English and Western that would even suit her broader back now, let alone as she grows & changes. Any treed saddle chosen now may not work for very long .

Since Gina rides with a longer, straighter leg, a dressage or VSD flap would be best suited to her needs.


My recommendation would be for a softer structured treeless with panels like the Sensation or a Black Forest saddle with memory foam padding sytem and shims so Reveille and Gina can ride in comfort as well as going a long way to resolving the “creeping saddle” syndrome.

The Sensation is more adjustable for the rider & will ride narrower for the rider, with the Black Forest although less adjustable for horse and rider being more economical. Gina will need to demo both brands to see which she & Reveille prefer.

* Note: When this particular type of treeless saddle is needed, I generally prefer the Black Forest treeless over other brands of similar technology (Treefree, Torsion, Barefoot, Bandos) because the owners were previously with another brand and listened well to customer input regarding the changes they would like to see. They also will do semi-customizations like billet placement, colors, and underside materials which the other similar companies do not. Black Forest also offers a shorter overall base length in the the larger seat sizes of the Shasta model than other brands of simliar technology. This technology of saddles does feel wider for the rider than the Sensation and has fixed stirrup hangers, so may not work for riders requiring a narrower twist or adjustability in stirrup placement. Black Forest quality control also seems to be more consistent than other brands of similar type and the pricing is great for people on a budget.

Sensation models:


Hybrid with dressage flap

Dressage Trail

Black Forest:


Any Western Model


Skito Insert Pad pattern to suit the saddle model & brand chosen after a demo period with 3/4″ foam and an array of front, center & rear 3/8″ shims to layer on top of the base layer of foam as needed to level the saddle.

A Balance International padding system with all their shims could also be used under the Sensation as an alternate choice.

Sensation self-centering/central elastic girths with either black felt liner or neoprene liner would allow the girth to find a more comfortable, stable place in Reveille’s, longer, un-defined girth groove.

I always recommend an english hunt style breast plate when starting young horses, both for safety’s sake and enhanced lateral stability.


After Reveille matures, if Gina wants to try a treed saddle, here are the brands & types I would recommend exploring based upon what I see now.

English Saddles: Balance International Saddles

Western Saddles: Sharon Saare, SR Custom Western,

Dave Genadeks Saddles

Happy Trails,


Coming in the next issue, a senior, high headed, dippy backed Arabian mare with a forward girth groove.

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