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Tip 8: Saddle Tree Angle

Did you know…Saddle Trees come in either: Narrow, Medium or Wide?

Ask yourself…Did you know that those designations refer both to the width of the tree and the angle of the tree?

Whether you answered yes or no, Schleese is offering you further information on the importance of the proper tree angle to prevent long-term damage to your horse. Please watch this informative video for some saddle fit tips on “Tree Angle”!

Learn the importance of a Saddle’s Tree Angle

Many of us are aware that trees come in narrow, medium, or wide, but how many of us know that those designations refer both to the width of the tree (more about that in Saddle Fit Tip #9) and to the angle of the tree? If a saddle fitter tells you that your saddle is a “wide narrow,” this means that you have a saddle with a wide tree width and a narrow tree angle.

In previous Saddle Fit Tips, we learned why it is so important that the saddle stay behind the horse’s shoulder. If it does not, and constantly moves forward, the tree points of the saddle will drive into the horse’s shoulders, first producing a buildup of scar tissue on his scapula, and then chipping away cartilage and bone. This is irreversible long-term damage, and can lead to persistent unsoundness and the premature retirement of the horse.

What does the tree angle have to do with all of this? In order to avoid this kind of damage, it is crucial that the angle of the tree be adjusted to match the angle of the horse’s shoulder. Think of two sliding doors. If they are properly aligned, one will slide freely past the other. But if they are not, one will jam into the other. It is the same with your horse’s shoulders and the angle of his saddle’s tree. As the horse moves, his shoulder rotates upward and backwards, as we learned in Saddle Fit Tip #2. If your saddle’s tree angle does not match the angle of your horse’s shoulder, his shoulders will be unable to rotate freely under the saddle, compromising his movement, sometimes severely. At the very least, a saddle with a tree angle that is not correctly adjusted is extremely uncomfortable for your horse. At worst, it can lead to irreversible long-term damage.

How do saddle fitters determine if the tree angle of your horse’s saddle matches the angle of his shoulder? They use the Sprenger gauge to measure the horse’s shoulder angle. They put the Sprenger behind the shoulder blade, and set it so that the upper arm of the device is parallel to the angle of the horse’s scapula. Then they adjust the tree of the saddle so that the tree angle matches that of the horse’s shoulder.

How can you tell if the tree angle on your saddle is correct for your horse? Put your saddle on your horse without a saddle pad. Then check if the angle of the piping on the saddle matches the angle of your horse’s shoulder. If it does, the angle of your saddle’s tree is correctly adjusted for your horse (assuming you have an adjustable saddle tree).

If you’re still uncertain if the angle of your saddle’s tree is correct for your horse, observe his behaviour under saddle. If the tree angle is too wide, there may be clearance on the top of your horse’s withers, but the saddle will pinch the sides of his withers. It will also hit the reflex point (cranial nerve 11) that restricts movement in his shoulders and makes him unwilling or unable to move freely forward. The horse will raise his head or hollow his back, or exhibit other forms of resistance until the reflex point/nerve becomes numb. If your horse behaves in this manner, it may be because the tree angle of your saddle is incorrect for him. It is important to understand that your horse doesn’t want to be bad, but if the saddle keeps hitting that reflex point, he almost has no choice: he cannot engage the muscles you’re asking him to engage. He cannot do what you’re asking him to do, and this can lead to unnecessary fights between horse and rider.

Put the saddle on your horse without a saddle pad. Then check if the angle of the piping on the saddle matches the angle of your horse’s shoulder. If it does, the angle of your saddle’s tree is correctly adjusted for your horse.

If you’re still uncertain if the angle of your saddle’s tree is correct for your horse, observe his behaviour under saddle. If the tree angle is too wide, there may be clearance on the top of your horse’s withers, but the saddle will pinch the sides of his withers. It will also hit the reflex point (cranial nerve 11) that restricts movement in his shoulders and makes him unwilling or unable to move freely forward. The horse will raise his head or hollow his back, or exhibit other forms of resistance until the reflex point/nerve becomes numb. If your horse behaves in this manner, it may be because the tree angle of your saddle is incorrect for him. It is important to understand that your horse doesn’t want to be bad, but if the saddle keeps hitting that reflex point, he almost has no choice: he cannot engage the muscles you’re asking him to engage. He cannot do what you’re asking him to do, and this can lead to unnecessary fights between horse and rider.

 

Is this a challenge you are facing? Are you experiencing other saddle fit issues? Tell us about them and let us help!

Contact miriam@schleese.com or solutions@schleese.com, book a Personal Saddle Fit Evaluation, or attend an educational lecture/demo.

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Testimonials

Hi Jochen, I just want to pass along to you the email that I received from Mary Thacker, my student who came to Coopersburg w/ me and Gid back in the summer, and whom you fit for a brown jumping saddle. She had the 19 yr. old TB you kept exclaiming over….Their saddle just arrived Thanksgiving weekend, and she reported today: Today's ride was even better than yesterday! It only took a few minutes to get him soft, and after a good canter he was so flexible, soft and his back was up. It was amazing. I feel so balanced in this saddle and safer. Not that I felt totally unsafe before, but I think I rode a little more guarded and wasn't realizing it. I've been galloping him around the outdoor and it is so neat in this saddle, I can't explain it. You'll have to ride in it, for sure. Maybe take Derby to the outdoor and get a good forward canter going. He just feels so different, I think because his back isn't hollowed. We are both very, very happy :)  

— Mary Thacker - Coopersburg, PA

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