Selecting a Saddle for a High Withered A Frame Horse

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


Lilly is a 17 yo. Hannoverian/Trakehner cross mare. She is nearly 16 hands and lightly built with a sensitive disposition.

Lilly loves to jump and excelled in 3 Day Eventing in Germany before she was imported to Greece. She has an abuse background as well as a tendency towards developing ulcers, having a difficult time keeping weight on. Lilly is a sensitive mare with a higher flight instinct, but takes good care of her person Helen.

She came to Helen in 2003 with Helen being an entry level beginning rider. Lilly is also Helen’s first horse. It was noted by Helen’s first veterinarian that Lilly had a slightly crooked pelvis . Despite chiropractic, this tendency persists.

Helen is in her 30’s is 5’9″ tall weighing about 140 lbs. She has an inseam close to 34″ with a proportionately long thigh. Helen has a narrow pelvis for her size and is not very flexible, so prefers a narrow twist. She has a tendency to ride off to the right which is also the same as Lilly’s crooked pelvis. Helen has low back and some right knee issues which have been helped somewhat by ongoing Pilates exercises.

Lilly and Helen live in Greece enjoying a mediterranean climate. They mostly ride for pleasure doing a mix of flatwork, ground poles and some lateral work in a nicely footed ring 5-6 days a week for 1 hour with some excursions out on nearby roads for a change as weather permits.

When they find a saddle that suits them both, they will begin low level dressage maybe jumping some low cavelletti’s to satisy Lilly’s love of jumping.

Until June of this year, Lilly was kept stalled 24/7 because this is the way most pleasure and show horses are kept in Greece near the cities. As Helen’s knowledge grew, she began searching for a safe place for Lilly to be kept in pasture. A few years ago, Helen removed Lilly’s shoes . She did well being in a stall and ridden in a sand arena. Finally 6 months ago, Helen found the perfect place where Lilly is free fed hay and kept in a large pasture all the time. Lilly is much happier with her new situation although it took a bit of time to adjust to being barefoot on harder ground with more small rocks.


Lilly and Helen have had a challenging time finding saddles that fit them both because in Greece there are only a few choices and fewer knowledgeable saddle fitters even for treed saddles.

From 2003-2006 they both enjoyed a 17.5″ Kiefer GP with deep knee and thigh blocks which worked well for Helen’s long thigh and need for a more secure saddle. Lilly did really well in this saddle.  As Helen’s riding ability progressed, she wanted a saddle that would allow her to move her pelvis and legs more freely.  So Helen sold the Kiefer and began trying other options. None worked as well for Lilly.  Finally, Helen settled on a Zaldi, Kent 17.5″ dressage model at her trainer’s suggestion, but the saddle did not sit level on Lilly. The flap was too straight for Helen pushing her legs back with the stirrup bars also being hung too far back to ride in a balanced position. Combine this with the saddle sitting pommel low and you have a recipe for disaster. The end result was Helen struggling to keep her pelvis from being tip forward , trying to keep her legs from flying back.  Even though the veterinarian who checked Lilly’s back could find no issues, Helen could feel Lilly’s discomfort which manifested in her not moving forward freely.

In hindsight, Lilly’s back began to atrophy over the 4 years since the Keifer was sold as evidenced in the comparison shot from 2004 and the recent pictures.

Helen’s trainer tried his Devoucoux close contact saddle on Lilly in April of 2010. Even though the seat felt too shallow for Helen’s safety needs. Lilly moved better than she had for years. This prompted Helen to search again, but could not find a treed saddle she felt comfortable in that Lilly liked. A friend from abroad suggested Helen try a Freeform dressage treeless saddle. Lilly likes this saddle, but unfortunately it is too wide for Helen’s pelvis and is a dressage model which does not suit her long thigh.

Helen is a member of a treeless chat group that I post on and contacted me for advice on where to go from here.



Lilly has a medium high whither and is a little croup high with a low spot just behind her withers. There is also some convexity in the lumbo/sacral area. She has a nicely placed girth line and shoulder which will allow a saddle to stay in optimal positioning.



From these views you will see that she now has a prominent spine and “A” frame pitch to her back from side to side. You can see the prominence of her sacrum more clearly here. You can not easily see Lilly’s crooked pelvis from these shots but can see some of the asymetry projected into the shoulder area.


It is interesting to see the differences in Lilly’s topline from the 2004 shot to now. Even though Lilly is 6 years older and now 17 yo, she is by no means aged. Since this 2004 shot shows the muscling Lilly is capable of developing, with appropriate ground work, riding, and a well fitting saddle, it is very possible Lilly can get close to this again.


Even though the Freeform dressage model sits level on Lilly and is a good length for her back, the width is too wide for Helen with flaps that are too straight for her long thighs. Helen is not comfortable and always feels as if she has to tuck her pelvis under to avoid feeling arched in her lower back. Helen does not look like she is able to settle into a pelvic neutral position with this saddle. Being able to just “drop” easily into a pelvic neutral position is crucial to being able to establish a centered connection with your horse in movement. When the saddle/horse is too wide for the rider’s hip joint and pelvis, strain will manifest for the rider in the sacral-iliac joints as well as in the lumbo-sacral joint making the rider feel pitched forward or back depending on the habitual holding pattern… even with a level saddle.

One important point to notice is that the rear edge of this saddle sits beyond where the pad ends. This has a potential for creating edge pressure and friction over time. It is ideal to have the contour of the saddle pad extend all around 1 1/2-2″. Too little margin can create edge pressure and too much pad extending beyond the saddle in any direction can increase the possibility of shifting pads, “fishtailing”, and of course friction..especially in the gaited breeds with more lateral movement in their backs/loin areas.


*A cooperative , caring attitude.
*Takes good care of Helen both on the ground and under saddle
*Nicely place girth line & shoulders for seating a saddle
*Good back length


* Her now “A” framed back with prominent spine
* Her croup high conformation
*Crooked pelvis with some lumbar convexity
*Medium high withers with a dip just behind where they end


*An appropriate height/weight match for Lilly’s size
*Engages in appropriate activities/frequency/ ride time lengths for Lilly that they both enjoy
*Listens to Lilly’s needs & is her advocate
*Is willing to explore new ideas in horse keeping, riding, saddle fitting even though they go against the norm where she lives
*Is working on her structural issues concurrently with working on Lilly’s


*Has structural projects and habitual movement patterns that re-enforce Lilly’s patterns and structural issues.
* Needs a narrow twist
*Does not have access to a lot of choices for equine body work/newer thought riding


1) For Helen to keep a regular Pilates practice going and to explore some Feldenkrais CD’s for at home. Many of my clients find Eileen BachY Rita’s Cd set “Feldenkrais At Home very helpful in habitual movement re-patterning.

2) Look into incorporating some TTEAM ground & bodywork as well as Connected Riding books/tapes.

3) Ongoing bodywork/equine chiropractory to help Lilly find a new balance in her body.

4) Try using a bareback pad over a special Skito insert padding system (with 3/4″ foam and a front lift shim) as an interim until an appropriate saddle is found and then as an alternate saddling possibility from just riding in a saddle. The Christ sheepskin bareback pad or Skito high whither cut bareback pad with 3/4″ foam are favorites with my clients. Both have billets so you can use a central elastic self centering girth or double ended elastic girth for both horse comfort and enhanced stability.

5) Try some Hilton Herbs probiotics & Hilton digestive balancing herbs to help Lilly absorb nutrients more efficiently. Make sure to have both a white salt block & a Himalayan salt chunk out so she has a choice to balance her minerals & sodium.

6) In the Spring add some fresh dandelion greens on a daily basis to clear the liver and since Lilly loves the free growing local chamomile, let her eat as much as she would like, maybe hand grazing her where it is plentiful if it does not grow in her pasture. Chamomile is a lovely herb that helps calm the nervous system and helps balance the digestion especially in horses, humans who are more high strung.

7) If Lilly still shows foot soreness when hacking out on the roads, consider trying some front protective hoof boots. Lilly has a round foot shape, so may do well with the Cavallo Simple Boot or the Old Mac. Ease of application is important for Helen so she does not hurt her back.

8) In all the pictures Helen sent me of Lilly under saddle, the pads/layers of pads were shorter than the saddle. To avoid any potential for edge pressure all pads (even layers of padding) are best fitted with 1 1/2-2″ margin around the entire outline of the saddle. If you are layering, stagger where the layers end to avoid a thick edge. Neither treed nor treeless saddles should sit on or over the edges of padding systems.


Either GP or GPD flap to suit Helen’s long thigh with adjutable stirrup bars. Since Kiefer’s worked well for Lilly in the past, trying to find a model with less knee/thigh blocks for Helen’s comfort would be a good place to start. Albion saddles or a used Lauriche with a warmblood tree may also be possibilities.

My perference would be to select a tree that would accomodate a full insert saddlepad (AKA pocket pads) with 100% wool bottom like Skito or Mattes and a non slip type top with a high whither cut. The optimal foam selection would be 1/2″ open cell foam or Prolite foam to provide some shock absorption for both Helen & Lilly. Make sure that the entire pad contour is similar shape to the saddle with 1 1/2-2″ around all edges. A front lift shim would also be needed to level the saddle. The thickness would be determined by how much the saddlefitter could add to the flocking in the front 1/4-1/3 of the saddle panels. Balance saddles makes a great 1/2″ Prolite pad that has an 1/4″ front lift built into the pad. This pad can be layered over a Griffin Numed high whither cut 100% wool bottom pad.


Startrek is the only brand of treeless saddles that is a possibility because of Lilly’s “A” frame/higher whithered conformation and Helen’s need for a secure saddle with a narrower twist. The Delfin is more traditional in appearance and the Comfort would be possibilities.

A high whither cut Skito pad in the appropriate Startrek pattern/100% Wool bottom with non slip strips on a cotton top would work well with either of the above . A 1/2″ firm foam with a full front tapered shim would be a nice choice .


As an alternate riding choice, a Christ bareback pad over either the treed saddle pad or treeless saddle pad with 3/4″ open cell foam cut to fit the pad would be very comfy for both Helen and Lilly.


For optimal horse comfort and enhanced lateral stability, a central elastic/self centering girth is my recommendation. Reactor panel & Sensation make lovely girths. If the latter can not be found in Lilly’s size, then a double ended elastic girth such as a Pro-choice or Albion girth would be the next best choice.

* My recommendation is to always try any saddle for at least 10 days before you buy, preferably having an equine chiropractor or bodyworker come in before the trial period & towards the end of the demo period for input. In Helen’s situation, she may not be able to do this because of the shipping charges it would entail.



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