Flat on round and round on flat - a paradox

Posted by RodandDenise on December 12, 2015

We are no longer building saddle trees, but we have two videos about how Western saddles fit horses available on our website.

2015 Dec 12 1a round muscles.jpg 2015 Dec 12 1b flat muscles.jpg

Some people think that when we get Dennis Lane measurements or back drawings of a horse, we make the bottom of our bars the exact reverse of the back shape of the horse. Nope, we don’t. We have to make a tree that fits that horse, a tree that works whether the horse is standing still or moving, is walking, trotting or loping, is going uphill or down, is dragging a calf to the fire or holding the rope while the cowboy is doctoring the animal. This means that we learn the basic body type of the horse from the drawings or DL measurements and then we make the tree with the allowances built in that are needed to fit that body type.

2015 Dec 12 2 back bar pad 23.25 bar length 1202027.JPG

An example of this the crown shape we put on the back bar pads, which go over the last few ribs and the front part of the loin. For a horse that is flat, we use a round shape, and for a horse that is round, we use a flatter shape. (Shock and heresy!! I can hear the cries now!) Allow me to explain…

2015 Dec 12 3 flat muscles on a horse.jpg

Here’s a horse where the muscles under the back bar pad are flatter and drop away from the spine. This may be due to lack of conditioning, disuse, damage and atrophy, or maybe it is just the way this horse is made. Possibly these muscles could be strengthened and become rounder. Or maybe not. At any rate, this horse is always going to have flatter muscles than a foundation bred quarter horse type.

2015 Dec 12 4 roundest crown pattern.jpg

And this is the crown pattern we would use on this horse – our roundest one. Why? Why not use a flat one to match the horse? One word – edges. Muscle, even well toned muscle, is relatively soft compared to a tree in a saddle, even with leather, shearling and padding between them. So when pressed together by a rider’s weight in the saddle, it is the muscle that gives and the edges, though padded and protected by the aforementioned material, can create high pressure points if they are too sharp.

Our goal regarding edges is to extend the transition zone from pressure to no-pressure over as wide an area as possible. With a horse with flatter muscles, the edge is more likely to dig in with a flatter bar. A rounder crown pattern gives more even pressure over the whole bar pad and allows that transition zone around the edge to be longer, meaning no high pressure edges. So round on flat works.

2015 Dec 12 6 round horse.jpg

So what do we do with this horse where the muscles rise on either side of the spine and bulge upward?

2015 Dec 12 7 flattest crown patter.jpg

This is the guy we will use our flattest crown pattern on. It is almost, but not quite, totally flat across the bar with just a bit of relief on the edges. Why this one? Because edges are not likely to be a great concern on this horse. When the rider presses the bar into the horse, the bulging muscle compresses and becomes flatter but even then the likelihood that the edges will dig into the horse is slim. So flat on round works.

2015 Dec 12 8 too steep an angle.jpg

This assumes, of course, that the angle at the back is correct. Here’s what can happen if the angle is really too steep – the outside edge will dig in while the inside edge has minimal pressure. If there is too much angle, that isn't as bad since the inside edge is much rounder than the outside edge on flatter bars, at least on our trees. (A quick comment here. We set our bar “angle” based on the wither shape of the horse. The “angle” at the back is determined by the amount of twist in the bar. You can have the same “bar angle” at the front and different “angles” at the back due to different amounts of twist.)

2015 Dec 12 9 concave bar pad.jpg

Sometimes we get asked why we don’t make the bars concave for horses like the black one? Well, it’s those silly edges again… Here’s a picture of a bar that has been made just very slightly concave.

2015 Dec 12 10 edge pressure from concave bar pad.jpg

And here’s the skirts from that saddle. You can see where the pressure was – principally along the edges of the bar, and also under the screws that protruded through the bar. (Something saddle makers need to be aware of with those nice thin bars…) While concave sounds like a good idea, edges make it a bad idea...

2015 Dec 12 11 in between horse shape.jpg

What about the guys in between, the ones that aren’t bulgy but aren’t flat either?

2015 Dec 12 12 medium crown shape.jpg

Well, we use an in between crown pattern on them. Actually, this is the most common crown pattern we use because most horses fit the middle of the road shape under the back bar pad. It is the most versatile, as we have found it will work on the widest range of horses.

So there you go - more about the art and science of tree making: the reason why we don’t shape the bar to be a mirror image of the horse…

Posted by Mrs Shoes on 
I learn something every day; thanks for today's nugget.
Posted by Gordon Andrus on 
Excellent as usual. I hope you two are doing well. All my best wishes for a happy Christmas!
Posted by Steve Tool on 
What kind of tree do you recommend for a buckaroo riding a string of appendix-type horses? Not everyone rides just one horse.

Thanks, Steve
Posted by RodandDenise on 
It depends on the tree maker, of course, but the appendix type horses still work well with a 4 x 90 fit. Some could likely even go with a 3 3/4 x 90, but you can pad up a 4 x 90 to make it work while the 3 3/4 x 90 will be a bit too narrow for the majority of horses today, so you are better with the 4 x 90 and different pad thicknesses to make up the difference to fit a wider variety of horses.
good explanation. the old Standard Saddletree bar patterns fit a pile
ile of horses well in their day. there was a fair amount of crown in both front and back bar pads. not the widest pads in the world, but lots of horses got ridden plenty of miles without many complaints. probably fewer horses carrying as much flesh, and better top lines on more thoroughbred related horses. another example would be the old McClellan army saddle trees. long, pretty straight, and plenty crowned, front and back. minimal rigging and padding.
as a proponent of flattening out front and back bar pads and adding a bit more twist i will say the impetus came from observing the sweat patterns on hard ridden horses carrying flatter trees such as those made by Bowden.
bottom line: there is certainly room for variations and diversity in underside tree bar conformation, pattern and dimension, particularly in view of the variations we see in horse breeding, condition, conformation, and especialized uses to which horses are put.
good to look back over our shoulders in time and past experience a little more.
you two have made a lot of valuable contributions over time in terms of producing trees, as well as relevant research, information, and shared thought. many thanks, Merry Christmas, be well and happy.

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