I grew up riding saddle-less everywhere on my first pony with a bareback pad for "fancy", so I have always been intrigued by treeless saddles. According to those who ride treeless and prefer a closer contact with more feel of the horse's back, treeless is the only way to go. They also rave about the lack of a need to saddle fit and adjust the saddle to a changing back since there is no tree to fit around. Opponents of treeless cite a pretty famous study by Dr. Hilary Clayton about the pressure points under the rider being more pronounced with a treeless saddle than a treed saddle. Opinions and first person accounts vary wildly on the interwebs. Go figure. I've been using the Dressage Naturally program for a while and Karen Rohlf herself uses a treeless saddle mostly. She is not against treed saddles at all but prefers the closer contact and feel of the horse's back with a treeless and of course the lack of the necessity of constant saddle fitting for changing backs. If you have a video classroom membership on Dressage Naturally there is a great video on saddles that covers the advantages of both treed and treeless saddles, how to check fit, and how to pad treeless for different types of backs. Karen herself mostly rides treeless but thinks whatever is comfortable and works for your horse is great, kind of like her take on bits vs. bitless.
Karen uses an Ansur Dressage Classic that is a high end treeless saddle. Think $3000+ new. Gulp. Anyway, looking around on the internet used Ansur's are out there but you have to buy a 2008 or newer to get the new trauma system touted above. It is fairly hard to find a newer than 2008 used and they tend to hold their value pretty well. Since Jet goes pretty well in his Marcus Krehan monoflap and seems to have no saddle fitting issues the Ansur Classic was just something I've kept an eye out for at a good price. I figured the only way I would know if I liked treeless was to try it for myself and the only way I would ever buy a Classic was if a screaming deal came up. Which it did the end of January.
The saddle arrived in 9/10 condition for less than 1/3 new retail price. Go eBay. It was heavier than I expected with much more padding and structure and quite frankly is a nice piece of craftsmanship. The Ansur Classic is basically a leather bareback pad but much more substantial and shaped like a standard dressage saddle with no gullet. Because of watching the DN video I was comfortable on padding the saddle with an ECP half pad with a gullet to give myself a little bit of a twist(Jet has a broad back...) and also to give Jet a bit of spine relief just in case he was weirded out by no gullet and no tree. I thought Jet might have some kind of reaction since he is pretty sensitive, so I tightened my chin strap, put my phone in my pocket, and rode inside for the first ride.
And from the first couple of steps we both loved the Ansur. For me it was like riding on a cloud(no tree!) and my leg fell perfectly against Jet's side. Posting felt so easy and in balance and the sitting trot and canter were just a bit more connected with no rebound off of the tree because there isn't one. Everything just felt easier. The things I noticed immediately about Jet were that he was much easier to get straight to the left, his lateral work both ways was effortless, and he felt a bit more through his back with no extra effort on my part. I just did my third ride in the saddle yesterday and all of the above is still true. No back soreness on his part(or mine!) effortlessly straighter, more through the back, and with better lateral work. I love the contact with Jet's back and that feel that is closer to no saddle but with just enough padding and stirrups to make thing a bit easier and more comfortable than actual bareback. So far we both really like the saddle and the amount of feel for seat and weight aids is totally enhanced. I think this could be really helpful as we finally get more polished at 1st and 2nd Level. That said, I think I will do an update in a couple of months to note pro's and cons in training and if Jet has any back soreness. What are your thoughts or experiences with treed vs. treeless? I would love to know.