There has been some discussion whether Bob's Sports Saddles should be called "treeless". For instance, one reference we know of is to the pommel and cantle being described as trees and accusing Bob's saddles as not "truly" treeless. Here is a quote from that page: "The Bob Marshall saddles are not truly treeless -- they have a wooden pommel and cantle tree, but no bars, which takes weight off the pommel and cantle trees. You sit between the trees."
Bob Marshall has been a designer/producer of saddles for approximately 30 years. He is sought for his products and his knowledge of saddle design and production. He is highly respected for his work. Bob refers to the pommel and cantle as tree parts, which appears to be the correct reference (see the illustration of a typical saddle tree below) . But, the gretchenfathauer quote, it appears, has inadvertently changed the words and meaning of Bob's description. And, that simple embellishment has caused something of a stir over the issue of what is a treeless saddle.
The illustration shows a typical saddletree (or "tree") and the relative positions where the pommel and cantle parts fit in relation to the rest of the tree. In the saddle industry, a typical saddletree is ridged and consists of bars, pommel, cantle and horn all assembled together into one complete ridged (possibly semi-ridged) framework. Different materials, such as metal, wood, plastic, fiberglass or other can be found in the construction of the tree parts.
Through the years, the saddletree got it's name because it is very much like a tree. A tree is strong, is kind of heavy, is made of wood, it has parts connected together firmly, it holds a lot of stuff, it's pretty darn rugged and it works real hard. Many people these days are interested in using a saddle for it's comfort instead of it's brawn. Comfort and equine health has become a principle goal. And what Bob actually did to meet this need was to construct the first Sports Saddle by physically cutting out the bars. Removing the bars disconnected the pommel part from the cantle part resulting in a softer seat, flexible action and no framework to poke or pressure the horse. After that, Bob fashioned various pommels and cantles into the shapes needed to construct the different models of Sports Saddles.
If you could see Bob's Sports Saddles during construction without the pommel and cantle attached, you would still recognize it as and call it a saddle. You could even ride in it without the pommel and cantle since the stirrup and cinch rigging are already in place. In fact the saddle is built before the pommel and cantle (i.e. the saddle seat) go on. Since Bob's Sports Saddle has no framework the saddle can't be ridged and some Sports Saddles have no horn.
Often, a typical tree integrates the seat and the framework for strength. However, the saddle seat is definitely not the tree. The construction of the Sports Saddle is different from the construction of a typical treed saddle, even though pommel and cantle parts are used. When you stop to think about it, what else would you use to form a saddle seat? ( "Hey Darrel -- grab me that ol' tractor seat over thar, will yah?")
For example, let's say you have a tractor and you take off the wheels and the seat, and lay them on the ground on the right side. On the left side lays the tractor without the wheels and seat. Neither the seat nor the wheels is the tractor and even the combination of the two couldn't do what a tractor is made to do. Even the simplest tractor mechanic knows that much. The tractor is still there layin' on the ground -- its' seat and wheels removed, and not very functional. However, the tractor is still not the seat and neither is the seat the tractor. So, how could a pommel or cantle possibly be a "tree"?
So, what is a saddletree? Is the pommel or cantle the tree? Is the pommel + cantle the tree? Are the bars the tree? Is the pommel + cantle + horn + bars the tree? What if the parts are not connected together, does that make the tree, or not? What if you had a bareback pad and attached a pommel and cantle - would that be a saddletree? Silly questions? ... Maybe, maybe not. It's important to know how to define "tree" meaning "saddletree" so that people won't be confused.
One thing we know for sure, the saddle industry has come to accept that a typical saddletree consists of most or all of the tree parts and that those parts are assembled by connecting them together firmly, forming a ridged (or possibly semi-ridged) framework. After the saddle leathers and accessories are attached it's called a saddle. The "framework" is the key ingredient whether you have a tree (i.e. saddletree) or not. And there you have it.
So, in the end, are Bob's Sports Saddles "treeless"? It's probably a safe bet to say they are treeless, but keep an eye out for the saddletree police just in case.