Picture of the Freedom bars that lay along the horses back. The tree is the foundation of the saddle and the bars are the foundation of the tree. Like a good shoe needs to fit and support your foot to keep you comfortable and healthy, the bars of the saddle need to do the same for the horses back. If your shoes cause you discomfort or pain at some point you will start compensating trying to relieve the discomfort. This is where the cycle of symptoms that will show up in other areas will start. Pain in legs, back, etc. you can treat the symptoms till the cows come home but you will only cure the problem with correct fitting shoes. Saddles work the same way. We see horses that can't gait well or at all, disfigured back conformation horses that constantly rush or don't want to move. These symptoms can usually be traced back to bad saddle fit. We have noticed most gaited horse saddles use quarter horse or modified quarter horse trees. These trees have bar twist from about 25 to 35 degrees. Twist is a condition that changes the shape of the bar from front to back as it lies on the horse to maintain contact with the back. This is done to spread the pressure of the saddle and the rider as evenly as possible to eliminate pressure points. The 25 to 35 degree twist bars work great on quarter type horses. The problem is that the gaited horses back normally only requires about 10 to 12 degrees twist in the bar. Combined with the gaited horses different rib spread, lumbar and general back length, shoulder use and development (all affected by twist) you can see why quarter horse bars aren't a real good choice. After years of study our conclusion is the best saddles are made on trees of solid wood that fit the back correctly with fiberglass or rawhide cover. We prefer fiberglass as it tests as strong as rawhide and gives a better moisture seal. If you are willing to do the research like we have there is plenty of independent evidence to confirm our observations that saddles made on unbalanced trees and alternative styles such as flex bar, flex panels and treeless, all have their own built in flaws that will end up working against you and your horse. We don't use or recommend any of those saddle styles.
The bar length is important but more important is how they lay on the horses back. We have found, with our correct twist and rock, 21 inches is the optimum length for backs that are very short to quite long. Our standard bar length is between 19 and 21 inches depending on the seat. This length can be adjusted if needed though we rarely find it necessary.
The seat measurement is a straight line from the inside of the top of the swell to the inside of the top of the cantle.
The gullet is the space between the bars at the top of the tree. It is very important to have enough room in this area. Though gaited horses tend to be smaller as a rule than stock type horses the gullet in a gaited horse saddle tree needs to generally be as wide as a wide quarter horse tree. This is because gaited horses are more sprung in the ribs and more developed in the shoulders. But just a wider gullet with out the proper twist and rock is not enough. Again, we see this mistake in a lot of trees. A correct tree will also have the bars laid on a proper angle to accommodate the difference in a gaited horse back.
Twist of the Freedom Saddle
The twist of the Freedom Saddle is minimal and considerably less than that of a quarter horse tree. Quarter horse trees generally have a twist ranging from 25 to 35 degrees. Gaited horses generally have backs requiring a twist of about 10 to 15 degrees with a 12 degree area being most common.
The picture shows the correct lay of the Freedom Bar for a gaited horse back next to a quarter horse bar that lays too flat on the gaited horse. This will cause discomfort, possibly rubbing sores or bumps on or around the spine where the saddle bars contact the back.
Rock of the Freedom Saddle
Quarter horse bars used in most gaited saddles are designed with a high degree of bend or rock in the bar. This is to fit the conformation of the Quarter horse back. Gaited horses are designed with a much straighter back therefore much of the rock or bend must be taken out of the bar to fit correctly. If this bend is left in the bar it will create a pressure point in the middle of the horses back causing it to drop its back to alleviate the pressure. The Freedom saddle has been designed to fit the gaited horse back properly with the correct rock. Dropping the back will cause gaiting and other health problems not unlike the problems you would noticed if you walked around with your back hollowed all the time. When gaited horse clinicians talk about inverting the back to achieve gait this is the result.
Ground seat is the process of applying and shaping leather to the tree to create the base surface that the rider will be sitting in. The true performance and comfort from a riding perspective is due to how well the ground seat is shaped to a specific rider. Excessive padding is not a substitute for a properly made ground seat. In fact a correct ground seat with no padding will be more comfortable than a thickly padded seat on a bad surface after even a short riding time. A correct ground seat will help you achieve and maintain a correct riding position and is largely responsible for your success as a centered rider. Handmade ground seats are rarely if ever found in assembly line saddles.
Freedom Saddle Seat
The seat of the saddle is very important to the horse and rider. The seat should allow you to easily achieve and maintain a correct riding position. When sitting correct it is easy for the horse to carry you and it will not be rushing trying to regain balance. It is very unnerving to most horses to be taken out of balance and in their effort to regain their balance they tend to unnerve their riders. Even if this does not scare the rider it can be exhausting trying to keep a nervous or rushing horse in check or just never having a feeling of complete control. It is amazing how the simple act of sitting in balance with your horse can change this situation. Also sitting in balance is a better riding position that makes starting, stopping, turning, changing and maintaining gait speed much easier. You should also notice less fatigue in your back and legs because you are not bracing in the saddle, this will be a positive for both you and your horse. The opposite of the rushing horse is the one that shuts down and you have to urge or kick every step to keep moving. This is a different symptom of the same problem corrected by balance.
Freedom Saddles have a 4 inch slightly cupped cantle for the comfort and security of the rider. An extensive study shows that the 4 inch height is of most benefit to riders. Higher cantles are of little benefit in comfort or keeping you in the saddle and can make mounting and dismounting more difficult. The slight cupping on the sides of the cantle helps lateral stability of the rider.
Swell (fork or pommell)
Freedom Saddles use a slick or "A" fork style swell is stylish design provides some height to insure that even high wither horses don't contact the underside of the swell. It also offers extra security from being pushed over the swell.
All Freedom Saddle skirts are blocked. Blocking the skirt is a vital process to allow the bar to conform to the horse's back, distributing weight and minimizing or eliminating pressure points. Blocked skirts also allow the saddle to set more securely on the horses back. Fleece is added to the skirt after the blocking process is complete providing more cushioning and comfort to the horses back . We are unaware of any assembly line made saddles that employ blocked skirts because this is a time consuming procedure reserved for custom saddles.
Blocked Skirts Before and After Photos
The photo shows the difference between blocked and unblocked skirts. The skirt at the top of the photo is blocked. The one in the bottom of the photo is unblocked.
Unblocked skirts actually disable a saddle bar from laying securely on the horses back, making the saddle fit less stable.
Freedom Saddles are made with U.S. tanned English bridle leather because of its high quality. English bridle leather uses a high concentration of oils and tallow in the tanning process giving the leather a soft firm finish and the saddle breaks in fast with very little if any squeaking. This leather requires very little maintenance. Keeping it clean with glycerol or saddle soap and a light coat of 100% neats-foot oil is usually all that is required. The picture shows the saddle color options. Show brown and black are our standard colors. Chestnut and tan are special order colors for an additional charge of $110.00.
Freedom Saddle is available with smooth "top grain" or suede seat leather over a 3/8" foam padding in black or brown. Non-padded seats are also available.
Freedom Saddles have a balanced rigging that applies equal pressure from the front to the back, keeping the saddle stable, eliminating cantle flop (which is a major cause of sore backs) and the need for a back cinch. This picture shows our Freedom rigging position. A Back cinch is an available option.
Stretched Fenders and Stirrup Straps
All Freedom Saddle stirrup leathers and fenders have been mechanically stretched. This is to insure that the stirrups have the best opportunity to maintain equal length as they are used year after year. This is one more procedure that you will find in a well-made Freedom Saddle that you will not find in lesser quality saddles.