Why are Trees Used to Build Saddles?  

We have come to understand that the tree is there to distribute the riders' weight, to keep the saddle off of the horse's spine, as well as giving form and structure to the design. But how did saddle trees get their start?

Originally, a saddle tree was used in saddles for warfare. The saddle tree was intended to keep soldiers in their seats and to assist with carrying all the gear that's needed for a battlefield campaign. If the soldier fell out, especially in battle, they'd likely get killed. And in a joust match, it becomes very important for a soldier wearing armor to stay seated in order to win the contest or battle.

When you stop to think about it, many items, words and customs have come to us arising from the needs of warfare, such as trenchcoats, uniforms, banners, negotiations, handshaking, saluting, etc.. The concern that should come to mind is whether a saddle tree will improve your equine's performance and your satisfaction with the sport? Regardless of tradition, if your saddle doesn't improve performance and satisfaction, than you should consider not using a saddle with a tree in it.

Stirrups and rigid saddles make a lot of sense when it comes to staying upright in the heat of battle. Even the infamous mongols (Genghis Khan) got into the act by having been credited for inventing stirrups. When you come to think of it stirrups make a lot of sense for staying upright in a sharp turn under the stresses of a heated of battle. And if you had a lot of battle gear to haul around, the problem even gets a little more tricky. Lives were at stake in some of these situations, and although some of the horse's were loved, the horse was probably not taken deeply into consideration relative to building saddles.

Another important function immerged during the period where side-saddle riding was popular. This riding style required a special configuration of tree to ride securely. Also, VIP's and monarchs, at times, needed to be perched atop of platforms or chairs, such as in a parade or on the way to a special occasion, such as an execution, inauguration, celebration or memorial. The way to make the chair or platform secure was to fasten it to the saddle tree.

You can imagine that there were a lot of horses made to feel bad during those times. These riding styles went on for a long time and the use of saddle trees became a traditional way to make saddles. More often then not, trees have been used in saddle construction because that's the way saddles have always been constructed and people have grow accustomed to the treed construction method. It's traditional, but how good is this tradition for the horse? Does it affect performance and/or satisfaction?

These days, there are still some activities that require the use of a tree in the saddle. Cowboying work activities are stessfull on a saddle. For instance calf-roping and trailing pack animals requires the use of a saddle tree.

Also, some of the classic events, specialty breeds, show and sport events require treed saddles because of the demands placed by the traditions which gave rise to certain aspects of equestirian sports. Perhaps the idea of tradition preventing treeless saddles from competing or participating in various events is also a problem. Some traditions are really worthwhile and some traditions are not. One of the best ways to determine if a treed saddle tradition is worthwhile is whether it will enable you to achieve and fulfill your goals, such as performance, satisfaction, recognition, appreciation, etc..