You’ve been told your horse might need a hoop tree? Hmmm…I’ll give a shot at explaining what a hoop/freedom tree is versus the standard tree and what type of horses need them. A hoop tree as shown right side below, has a more rounded, broader pommel arch. The tree on the left represents a standard tree.
Horses come in all shapes and combinations of shapes. Some are very angular, laterally, and some are, as we have been know to call them, “kegs with legs”! Those types are generally easy to assign to a particular tree shape. The trickier backs to fit are the ones that are some conglomeration of the two. Below are examples of the angular back on the left and the mutton withered flat, laterally flat back on the right.
When we assess a horse or tracing, we look at the tree point area, the lowest point of the back, the longitudinal shape, (front to back shape), the length and the symmetry or lack of. That gives us the overall side to side and and front to back shape. If the lowest point of the back is shaped like a tire, then the horse will, at the very least, want a more laterally flat tree so that the rails of the tree don’t act like sled runners on the back. If the front is narrower, or downhill, (croup high or with a large dip behind the wither), then we might need to add a deeper panel and wither or full front gussets, even on a hoop tree type horse.
Photo 3: narrow front, wide mid
Why do you need a hoop tree? Why won’t a very wide tree in a wide width work? Picture an orange with a wide upside V. Somewhere along the lines of the V, there is going to be pinching on the orange.Note the bottom left. You can see where it would create pressure down the arms of the upside V. Now, picture an upside U. (See photo bottom right). The U will drape better or follow the contour of the orange. The hoop tree has a more open and broader pommel arch. The standard trees do not, generally speaking. However, there are some that are almost a hoop tree but not a true one, meaning that they are not quite as open at the top of the pommel arch.
Some horses are what we refer to as being on the cusp of a hoop tree. . That means that they could go either way and often have a preference.
The hoop tree gives more room around the wither and a bit further back so that the saddle doesn’t restrict the horse its way of going for a horse that needs that optio, . Some saddles snug up tight against the wither and a lot of horses feel claustrophobic and often, don’t want to bend or might resist picking up a canter lead. Yet, even though a horse might look like a hoop tree candidate, sometimes, the horse will prefer the standard type tree and be happy as a clam. Of course, there are varying degrees of angles in the standard trees from steep to open.
That is why it is so important to try saddles to figure out what works for both you and your horse. Educate yourself, get good advice and pay attention to how your horse moves in the different types of trees and panel configurations. I suggest taking notes so that you can keep track of what you have tried, how you liked the saddle and what worked and didn’t work.
As always, feel free to email questions or comments and offer suggestions for future article ideas.