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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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I had a wall full of ribbons from countless horse shows and I still wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy because my horses obviously were not. I spent thousands of hours riding with very talented trainers, but no matter how well I could ride, there was still a void. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be more than a rider. I wanted to be a horseman, that is, horsewoman. So, in my never-ending quest for self improvement, I embarked on a journey that would change not only my life, but the lives of the horses for whom I have such a deep passion. I began to study everything I could get my hands on about horse behavior. This led me down another path to a degree in equine nutrition. But wait, there’s more! I soaked up information about hoof care and the latest breakthroughs in equine pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and holistic healing like a sponge. I moved away from any training techniques involving pain, fear, and intimidation. I solicited the advice of trainers well-versed in the Classical Method of Dressage- no easy task in the Cutting Horse Capital of the World! I aligned myself with only those persons with a similar philosophy. Along the way, I met an amazing number of horses who, for various reasons, were placed in a recliner and destined for a life spent staring at a fish tank in someone’s nursing home of a back pasture, or worse, the kill pen. These horses had failed at their current careers due to physical and /or behavioral issues. Over and over I was encountering riders whose trainers and vets had given up on the horses. Somehow, it didn’t seem right. If these horses were okay for some life in a pasture or to be passed off to some other unsuspecting rider, why couldn’t they be made whole again? Plenty of humans retire from one career to begin another, so why couldn’t a low level eventer become someone’s next First Level dressage partner? I figured they simply needed someone with the knowledge to help them succeed and that person was going to be me. But, I am human and flawed, so even I could fail a horse. Enter GG, an exceptionally challenging mare. Try as I might, I just couldn’t figure out how to make her happy. She was terrific to be around- as long as I stayed off her back. So, without further adieux, I delved into the world of saddle fit. I was pretty sure I had it all figured out and was making some pretty good progress with the mare, but I wasn’t quite there. My saddle wasn’t horrible, but it still wasn’t quite right- and it certainly wasn’t doing me any favors. So, in a last ditch effort to find a way to ride this mare successfully, I began my search for yet another saddle- one that would suit both of us. A chance outing one evening landed me in Saddle Heaven. I had stumbled upon what would become a savior for even more of the horses entrusted to my care: Schleese Saddles. Not only are these saddles made for women (Hooray!) but they are also fully adjustable for the horse. A certified fitter from the company -in Schleese terms, an Ergonomist- comes to my farm at least every six months to fit the horses both statically and dynamically. The Saddle Fit for Life philosophy aligned perfectly with my own.  So, thanks to a chance meeting with Jochen Schleese and his wife, Sabine, the final piece of my puzzle fell into place and now I can be even more successful giving horses the futures they deserve- far from the kill pens and forgotten back pastures. Utilizing nutrition, holistic healing, environment, proper saddle fit, and the Classical Method of Dressage, I have been able to successfully heal horses with not only physical trauma, but psychological trauma, as well. My name is Jennifer Fulton and my focus is the Whole Horse.

— Jennifer Fulton - Aledo, TX

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