Friday, November 22, 2013

Having a Fit: Hoop Tree Vs. Standard Tree

As often happens in my life, things seem to come up in bunches.  The latest "bunch" has been Broad Horses and the Saddles That Fit Them (or Don't).  I've gotten several templates lately that look as though someone traced a propane tank.  My last fitting jaunt included 5 horses at 2 different barns who also fit the "propane tank" profile.  And just recently, I was asked by the The Arabian Sport Horse magazine to expand on an article I'd written for their April/May 2013 issue on the particular challenges of fitting the Arab sport horse. Since I was given free rein as far as subject matter, I latched onto hoop trees, since they seem (to my great surprise) to be little known and even less understood.  Since I'm WAY overdue for a new blog post, I thought I'd do a "warm-up" post to get ready to write the article.

If you've read my blog much, you're probably pretty familiar with the hoop (aka Freedom head, Dome, FWB) tree.  If you're not familiar with that type of tree, you can read this post to get the basics about them.  They're designed to "sit down" on a wide back and a lower, broad wither.  On horses with that conformation, a standard tree with an "A" shaped head will perch and be laterally unstable, even if it's the right width.  As a result of this low-profile fit, one of the comments I often hear about hoop trees from fitters who aren't familiar with them is, "It doesn't fit.  It sits too low in front - there's not enough clearance; I can only get one finger in under the pommel when the rider's up."

Here's a shot of a well-fitting standard tree (note that the angle of the tree point and the angle of the horse's back - both marked in yellow - are pretty much parallel):

And another:

There's a good amount of clearance between the underside of the pommel arch and the horse's withers - probably close to the "textbook" 3 fingers' width.

Now, let's look at a hoop tree:

And one with the rider up:

Quite a lot less clearance, right?  Note that the tree point angles are parallel to the horse's back, and note that the underside of the pommel arch is clearing the withers.  Hoop tree saddles are supposed to fit this way.  When fitting a hoop tree, we use the term "adequate" clearance - this means that the balance of the saddle is correct, and that at no time does the saddle come in contact with the withers/spine.

The fitting basics are still the same, no matter what tree type the horse requires.  You want The Heavy Seven (plus the billet configuration) to check out ... you just have a little less room under the pommel arch.

I know it may be unfamiliar to some folks, but it's ok.  Honest.


Dragon said...

Do you know anything about the Thorowgood cob saddles? Are they on a hoop tree? Just bought a draft cross mare and I am not really loving how my current dressage saddle sits on her.

saddlefitter said...

The Thorowgood Cob model works well for some of the broader horses; it has conformation-specific fitting features (as do all the Thorowgood models)and is, IMO, a better fit than the Wintec Wide for most of the broad backs. However, the plates used in the Thorowgood Cob, while wide, are NOT hoop-shaped - you can see photos of them here on the blog at You can see that they lack the extra breadth across the top of the arch that they'd need to be hoop-shaped. More on the difference at

Anonymous said...

Are any of the older plain flap model saddles like courbette, collegiate and crosby hoop trees?

saddlefitter said...

Anon, I'm sorry, but none of those saddles have a hoop tree. If you're looking for something affordable with a hoop tree, see if you can find a used Duett. They fit the broad-backs really well, and are more budget-friendly than most.

Dragon said...

Darn, I was hoping that it would be the miracle cure without spending lots of money! Do you know any saddle fitters in Southwest MI?

saddlefitter said...

Dragon, Cyndi Parks in Chicago covers your area (231-233-0764), or you can try Tish Graf (708-927-2309) or Jeff Kalman (734-726-0197). You might also consider working long-distance. Duett saddles, as I mentioned to Anon, are pretty budget-friendly, and do have hoop trees.

Northernmigal said...

Do you have any recommendations for saddle fitters who might travel to northern lower peninsula of Michigan (traverse city)? If not , we may be contacting you to discuss long distance fittings. Thank you very much!

saddlefitter said...

Northernmigal, the two fitters I have listed in MI are Jeff Kalman in Ann Arbor (I know he travels occasionally, his email is, phone is 734/726-0197) and Pam Omer, who's actually closer to you, in Williamstown, MI. The contact info I have for her is, 517/449-0983. Not sure if she travels. Give these folks a shout, and if they can't help, I'd be happy to work long-distance with you.