TREE POINTS: The 5 Characteristics (The Dr. Ruth Remix)
A recent FB post on my personal page of the below drawings revealed that most people did NOT see what was intended (a naked saddle tree), but saw... other naked objects. (I don’t profess to be an artist.)
Well, now I’m feeling like that 8th Grade Sex Ed teacher who is trying to demonstrate various birth control methods to her unruly pre-teen students. The class has dissolved into uncomfortable, hysterical laughter, the troublemakers in the back of the room are making all sorts of inappropriate comments, and the teacher is completely embarrassed and wondering why the hell she ever agreed to teach this class... but it’s in the lesson plan, so the show must go on.
So, without further ado... Here is the 1st post in the Tree Point Characteristics Series. Laugh away, but for God’s sake, don’t show the drawings to your young children.
Tree Points have 5 characteristics:
1. Width (we will discuss this in depth below)
5. Shape & Material
All of these characteristics affect the fit of the saddle - either separately or together - especially when it comes to “shoulder freedom” and “wither clearance”. (If you're not familiar with how the equine shoulder moves, please read our blog titled “THE TRAPEZIUS: SERIAL KILLER EDITION”, posted in December 2018.)
For example, if you have the right Tree Point Width, but any 1 of the other 4 Tree Point characteristics aren't right for the horse, the tree isn’t going to be a good fit. Because the characteristics of Tree Points vary greatly between brands and disciplines, and they all interact to produce different fits, sometimes changing only the tree size (width) won't solve the problem.***
***I've seen this problem several times: The horse is not going well in XXX brand, so the rider tries the same saddle in different tree widths, but experiences no improvement in the horse's way of going. This tells me that it's not a tree size issue, but probably another tree point characteristic that isn't fitting. The reality of this situation is, that unless the XXX brand has multiple trees with multiple Tree Point designs, the rider will have to move to a different brand to get better results.
We're starting this series with TREE POINT WIDTH, since it's all consumers hear about when buying a saddle.
Tree Point Width- what is termed as the “Tree Size” - is literally “the distance from the bottom of one tree point straight across (through the withers) to the bottom of the opposite tree point”. The distance between the ends of the points creates an angle at which the tree points meet the horse’s side. We want the tree points to lie parallel to the horse’s body, so there is even pressure.***
***Correct tree width is ALWAYS dependent upon correct HEADPLATE/POMMEL SHAPE. You cannot have one without the other.(For more information on this, read our U vs. V HEADPLATE blog post.)
Having the correct Tree Width (and pommel shape) achieves many things fundamental to a happy, healthy, willing horse under saddle:
> The Thoracic Trapezius and withers (spinous processes of the vertebrae) are protected from pressure and damage by the steel headplate and the pommel of the saddle.
> When the Tree Points lie evenly along the horse’s sides, it creates stability, and thus keeps the saddle centered and immobile on the horse’s back. If the horse is trying to listen to your (hopefully) minimal aids, having the saddle moving all about really makes that difficult!A saddle that is rocking front to back and/or side to side is usually caused by the tree width being too wide. Also, most people think the girth is what keeps them sitting on top of the horse's back, but I’ve seen way too many saddles end up underneath the horse due to poor saddle fit. A GIRTH will keep the saddle on the horse’s barrel... the TREE POINTS keep you - and the saddle - where it is supposed to be!
> It prevents impingement of the scapula aka provides “shoulder freedom” when combined with correct tree point length, angle, shape, and flair.
Tree width is the (only) measurement given to a consumer about tree fit, like “Medium-Wide” or “29 cm” or “#2 Fit”. It is NOT measured at the “dots”. (For more on this, read our blog titled WHAT THE DOT TO DOT MEASUREMENT IS USED FOR.)
There is no standardization on widths, because saddle companies use different tree designs, and as you’ll see in the next post, tree point LENGTH has a HUGE effect on tree point WIDTH.
The withers, where a wither tracing would be taken, is the area of the horse that determines Tree Width - NOT the neck, butt, belly, or where the rider sits! (Saddle Fitters sometimes do a “wither tracing” to determine tree width, and while a tracing can give you a general idea on size, saddle fit is made up of so more than just the tree width, so a template is not a good definitive measurement. For more on this, read our blog titled TEMPLATES.)
What does Tree Width have to do with shoulder freedom? Remember that the equine shoulder, when it moves backward (toward the tail), moves UPWARD (and medial) into the belly of the Thoracic Trapezius muscle, right under the pommel of the saddle. We just stated that probably the most important function of Tree Width is to protect the Trapezius by keeping the saddle off of it as much as possible... and a saddle that is TOO WIDE*** will fall pommel down and pinch the Trapezius - and by extension, the scapula as it rotates backwards.
***Remember that it is entirely possible for a saddle to be TOO NARROW at the top of the pommel and TOO WIDE at the bottom of the tree points. This means the POMMEL SHAPE is incorrect for that particular horse. Having the right pommel shape is just as important as correct tree width.(Again, refer to the U vs. V headplate shape post.)
So, now that we've established what Tree Point Width is (tree size) and why having the correct size is so important to your horse, let's move on to Tree Point Length...
NEXT IN THE SERIES: What is TREE POINT LENGTH, and how does it affect Tree Point Width?
(This one major reason why tree widths are not standardized!) Stay tuned and stay put!