Home / News / Uncategorized / The Difference between Saddles: Part 1

Any body can buy a “saddle” in today’s economy. If you look on ebay you can even find some around $100, but that doesn’t guarantee the saddle is going to work perfectly. Far too often we see these ebay saddles come in needing repair or for trade because it doesn’t fit the horse. Many of the saddles that are found on ebay appear to be good for the pocket book but can end up costing you more.

Before anyone gets mad, I’m sure there are people out there that have had a great experience with these types of saddles but I can tell you this is not the norm. We have had plenty of people bring in these types of saddles to trade and we turn them away because they don’t fit the majority of horses our customers have. The reason these saddles don’t fit is because the tree or base of the saddle is made up of inferior parts or cheap materials that do not support the rest of the saddle.

We here at Al-Bar Ranch wanted to put together a series that talks about what goes into a saddle, from its parts to the leather that is used. Part 1 of this series is going to talk about the different types of trees available in the horse industry and a little bit of how that will affect both you and the horse. Hopefully this will help when you do go looking for your next saddle.

Western Saddle Tree Example

First off there are generally two types of trees in saddles; wood or synthetic. Wood trees are going to offer the best for both you and your horse in comfort and quality but typically will be more expensive. Synthetic tress offer less comfort and quality but make up for this with their lower price.

Here is an image of a tree and its parts to your left. Typically most trees are made of all one material. Your Flex-Trees, which I’ll talk about at the end, are built slightly different and are a hybrid of the synthetic and flex trees.


Synthetic Trees

Synthetic trees or Ralide trees, as they are more commonly know, are form molded from a sturdy plastic or resin mold that hardens and forms the tree. Due to this molding process these types of trees can be made in a variety of sizes or widths. Having a variety of widths and sizes is an advantage to horse owners because it can allow a better fit for your horse.

Unfortunately the down fall to having a synthetic tree from a mold is that you have to make sure that the fit is almost perfect because these molds are very rigid and have little to no give or play. As well you may find that synthetic trees do not always provide an extremely comfortable ride for neither you nor your horse.

A few examples of Ralide Tree Saddles are:
High Horse 6310 Gladewater Show Saddle & Fabtron 7854 Deluxe Trail Saddle

Wood Trees

There are typically three types of wood trees Rawhide, Bullhide, and Fiberglass). Wood trees are great because they are strong yet flexible enough to mold to your horses back which provides comfort and quality for both horse and rider. 


Rawhide trees are designed with a solid wood base which are then wrapped in fine leather. This leather wrapping has been soaked to allow it to mold to the tree for a perfect fit. The leather wrapping keeps the wood from causing chafing of the horses back, protects the wood from splintering, and keeps the tree from getting wet. Rawhide trees are very durable and can withstand lots of abuse. They also allow some flexibility in the tree for it to mold to your horses back. These types of trees typically tend to go in medium to high end saddles. Prices on these sorts of saddles will vary due to the fluctuating cost of leather.

A few examples of Rawhide Tree Saddles are:
Billy Cook 3299 Show Saddle & Billy Cook 9014 Show Saddle


Bullhide is very similar to rawhide. The addition of thicker leather makes this tree slightly stronger than the rawhide tree. It also allows for more flexibility in the tree due to the stronger leather. This type of tree is typically seen in top of the line saddles. You will find that bullhide trees cost more than any other tree on the market because the leather is so refined and tough.


Fiberglass trees are wood trees that have a resin coating sprayed over the top, rather than a leather wrapping. This resin acts like the leather covering in both the rawhide and bullhide trees buts adds more rigidity to the tree making it stronger but less flexible in comparison to any of the other wooden trees. Unfortunately the rigidness of the fiberglass trees makes the tree less likely to form to the horses back which requires you to have the proper fit with a saddle that uses this type of tree. Fiberglass trees will be less expensive than bullhide or rawhide trees because leather price fluctuations will have no effect on this trees.


Flex-Trees are becoming more and more popular among companies. Circle Y is a big advocate of flex-trees with their flex2 trees leading the way. Flex-trees saddles do what their name says, flex. With these types of saddles it is the bars on the tree that will move with the horses back keeping weight of the rider spread evenly across your horses back and alleviating pressure points.

Flex-trees have a wood base with other components such as rubber or neoprene which allows for the flexing of the bars. Each company that offers a flex tree tends to use different components that make their specific flex-tree saddles unique.

Here is an example of a Flex-Tree saddle:
Circle Y 1651 Topeka Flex-Lite Saddle

The most important thing is to find a tree that works for both you and your horse. You need something that fits properly and is a good quality tree. With some synthetic trees you may end up getting what you pay for, and in the end may cause more problems than what the saddle is worth.

For that reason alone, we here at Al-Bar Ranch consistently encourage you to take both new and used saddles out to try! Yes, you can take the saddle with you back to the barn and try it on your horse to make sure that it fits! Stop by and we’ll explain the whole process when you visit us in store. Hope to see and hear from you soon.