Monday, December 3, 2012

"Saddle Tree From Start to Finish"

Howdy Folks,

When Larry Wilson comes to build a tree he starts with his foundation tree he's made by laminating eighth inch plywood together. Now this looks pretty rough because he puts plenty of wood together so he has ample material to shape to the horse and rider. Here he is placing the tree on Molly for the first time for inspection. Throughout the fitting process he'll do this many times.
First fitting for Molly of Larry's hand made tree
After each fitting he'll grind and shape, fine tuning the fit until it fits the horse or in this case, the mule perfectly. The tree is the most important part of the saddle. Trees with improper fit can cause bridging, or pinching, rocking and painful pressure on the spine. Larry does all his own leather work too, and he does beautiful work, but he stresses it's the tree that makes the saddle. He says the rest is just upholstery.

Shaping the tree to perfection ...
One of many "fittings" to get it perfect
Then it's time to fit the tree to the rider. In this step the rider sits the tree and Larry measures the rider's comfort for seat size, stirrup bar (leather) placement, pummel and cantle height. Sorry I didn't get a picture of that, but here Larry is measuring where to place the riggings.
Applying fiberglass
Back to the shop, or in this case my barn for about 12 hours of grinding, fiber-glassing, shaping and building of the complete tree. I've watched Larry a few times over the years and each time I'm absolutely amazed at how exacting he is. After a few more hours the next morning, the tree was ready for a final fit on Molly, and for Chris to ride.

Final check, after installing the rigging to fit Chris'  needs
One last inspection proved all was perfect with the rigging (attached temporarily with only one screw at each end) and stirrup leathers in place, then saddle … or "tree up" time. 
Molly all treed up ready to ride
Interesting side note here, Chis remarked, as she gently snugged the girth, that Molly had always been "Girthy" and danced about while saddling. But this morning she stood almost asleep. Chris commented that all this time she'd reasoned it was the girth bothering Molly and this proved it had been the saddle.

While riding the tree Larry asks a lot of questions, and looks at everything.
Time to ride the tree! Chris and Larry discussing the feel of the tree. Inspection of the tree while riding is critical to achieving proper fit. The horse needs room to move under the tree while at the same time the tree must secure the saddle and rider. This combination can hardly be accomplished by a static fit or examination of a saddle.
Chris and Molly float on air with freedom and comfort
Chris had always used a breast collar and crupper with Molly's old saddle, but while riding the tree today, up and down slight inclines in the pasture she did not need them. The tree, fit perfectly to Molly, stayed in place beautifully.

Now Larry will finish Chris and Molly's new saddle to all Chris's specifications for color, design and placements off accessories and in no time Molly and Chris will be all set for years of trail adventures, both comfortable in a saddle that was made just for them!

It is my hope that this little story will help folks understand the importance of correct saddle fit. In my travels working with therapy horses I see very many sore backs, necks and hind ends brought on by improper saddle/tack fit. Many temperament/discipline issues are caused by ill fitting tack. I thought perhaps sharing the fitting of a tree may help folks have a new way of looking at saddle fit.

To see the finished saddle read "Molly's New Saddle" Pt 4 in saddle fit series HERE

Gitty Up
Dutch Henry


  1. Wow, what a brilliant and novel concept! I'm interested in this, but can't find a base price on his website. Do you happen to know? Thanks for sharing this, Dutch!

  2. Howdy Robynne, His saddles tend to be well within the range of what I call, "Off the rack" saddles. Less than a lot of them. His email is ... His phone number is 570-404-9440.

    You can email me too, for more info.

    He can also reshape the tree to fit your horse if it changes, or to fit your new horse. The saddle I ride Kessy in he made about 10 years ago and Kessy is the third horse he's shaped it to fit.

    If you look back to last week's posts here on my blog you'll find 2 more stories about Larry building saddles. I've known him for years, he's made me several saddles. His work for comfort for the rider and the horse is way beyond anything else I've ever seen.

    He is making a saddle in my area, Central VA, that's what made me blog about it ... Larry is from northern PA.

    He'll come to your barn to make the tree, he will charge for travel of course, but even with that his saddle prices are well within the range of mass produced saddles.

    Thank you, Robynne for following my bog!

  3. What a great break through for saddle fitting the horse but adding the riders comfort is a HUGHE bonus!! Fascinating. He truly loves his craft, is very proud of his wor , and it shines through on many levels!! Keep up the great work! I got a new trail saddle for Christmas last year two days before my fall on 12/27. Never got to ride in it. If this doesn't work out, maybe I will contact Larry. I am sure he has great ways to Improve comfort for those of us that have chronic back issues!! Nite, nite don't let the bed bugs bite :)

    1. Thanks Kathryn, ... Yes what Larry can do is amazing ... I've seen his work heal both horses & humans ... And he has even made saddles for therapeutic riding centers to accommodate special circumstances ...