What’s All The Hoop-lah About?

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.




roo punky back_3976_edited-1


roo punky back_3981_edited-1





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

wickser 3

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.


orange v and u 3 pixel


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.


21 Responses to “What’s All The Hoop-lah About?”

  1. Heather

    Is there any other way of determining which tree a BC saddle is based on apart from the front view?
    I’m looking for a used freedom/hoop tree BC saddle. There are several that i have seen that i have thought were the freedom, due to the U shape, however the sellers have come back saying they are on the classic/spring trees. On the older saddles they don’t appear to be stamped with the tree. I’m struggling to determine from photo’s which tree is which?

  2. Jay McGarry

    The older saddles were not marked as hoop trees so it was very confusing for many. The only way to be sure is to email Black Country with a serial number and they can tell you what tree the saddle is on. If we sold it, evidenced by a T in front of the serial number, and it’s from the original owner, we can usually say. It’s very hard to tell otherwise, for the average person and sometimes, even for us.

  3. Heather

    Thanks for your reply. I wish i lived closer to you, you are a lot more knowledgable and helpful than the companies in the UK.
    So am i right in thinking, that even if there is a full front gusset on a BC, could still be on either tree?
    Are you familular with Arabian saddle Co. Are they also on a hoop tree?

  4. Jay McGarry

    Heather, why don’t you email me directly, jay@trumbullmtn.com. It’s easier for me to respond.
    A BC saddle can be on a hoop tree and still have full front gussets. Full front gussets serve many functions and are often found on hoop and standard trees.

    The Arabian Saddle Co and Lovatt & Ricketts, (same company), have hoop tree saddles.

  5. Bonnie

    Hi I have a hard to fit horse. He is a very large with wide shoulders with normal withers (13 yrs old). I would like to try a saddle with a hoop tree but not sure how to measure for size or what cm to try. Thank you

  6. Jay McGarry

    On our site you can read about or watch our short video on how to do a tracing, Essentially, we like to have the following to evaluate your horse’s needs.
    For fitting
    Conformation shots, one from the side of the entire horse, square, head up
    One from the back, behind the tail on a mounting block looking down on the back, head straight
    Our questionnaire that you can download on our site
    Wither tracings as explained in our short video and instructions under saddle fitting on our home page.

  7. Nancy Grob

    I have a large 16.1h Palomino Quarter Horse/ American Paint with no withers to speak of. Saddles I have purchased would fall forward on him and so we got our saddle fitter out and her told me that he needs a hoop tree saddle and named Black Country. In looking at your info on the site I am not at all sure which type he needs. Can you help me? I want a Dressage saddle for him. He is 22years old and I will be 70 this year. I need something affordable – but able to make it possible for us to ride together with comfort for all! Any input?

  8. Nancy Grob

    I have a large 16.1h Palomino Quarter Horse/ American Paint with no withers to speak of. Saddles I have purchased would fall forward on him and so we got our saddle fitter out and her told me that he needs a hoop tree saddle and named Black Country. In looking at your info on the site I am not at all sure which type he needs. I want a Dressage saddle for him. He is 22years old and I will be 70 this year. I need something affordable – but able to make it possible for us to ride together with comfort for all! Can you help us?

  9. Jay McGarry

    Email me directly and I’ll give you some info that will enable us to help you. jay@trumbullmtn.com

  10. Malin

    Nancy- I have a paint/QH that is a true broad. Built like a tank and wide all over. I had a fitter out last week and was able to ride in a BC Eloquence with the Freedom Tree. I can’t say enough god things about that saddle. To feel her back swing like that was shocking and the canter depart was a dream. I have that saddle on it’s way now and can’t wait to ride in it all the time. If you wish to ask any questions or want to pics to compare your horse to mine- please email me.

  11. A. Coffman

    I am going to be purchasing a new jumping saddle at the end of this year, or beginning of next, and have started to look for options. I do not have access to a saddle fitter where I live, but I do work with a trainer who suggested I reach out to you regarding saddle fit. We think my mare and I will have some issues finding a saddle that works for both of us. Do you ever do consults via email? Thank you!

  12. Jay McGarry

    We do a lot of consulting and evaluating via email. Here is my direct email address:

  13. Jo

    Hi There,
    I have a flat backed (not overly), slight curve where saddle would go, average length not too long nor too short, average wither 16.1h Arabian/Saddlebred. He is not under weight or over weight. Not sure what rib sprung means, but he is not slab sided. He’s not a barrel or have hay belly. I have tracing and can send. He needs wide spine clearance. He has bigger right shoulder. What tree shape do you recommend for him. I have had him measured to WXW Kent & Masters S-Series Universal GPD but not seen it in person, this makes the twist to wide for me I believe. I need a medium twist. A few people told me they think this brand of saddle the rails would be too straight for his back. Can you pls advise if this is the case, what saddles do you sell that would accommodate this shape?
    Thank you

  14. Aleri

    I recently purchased a Black Country with hoop tree for my very round withered horse, but it came with considerably flocked panels and gussets which create a V shaped angle and the pommel rests very high (not usable as is). Do you know how adjustable the panel flocking is to fix this? I may be coming in for consignment if it is not 🙂

  15. Jay McGarry

    The flocking is quite adjustable but will only go so far if the tree is not the right width. You’re sure it is a hoop tree?

  16. Karen

    My family has a an aged draft cross with a slight sway back but his back is actually quite broad. We currently ride him in a Wintec all purpose with an extra wide gullet plate. He is comfortable in the combination but would like to upgrade him to a dressage saddle that will be both comfortable and accommodate his sway back coupled with his broad back.

  17. Jay McGarry

    It’s hard to comment without seeing more info but some options that are helpful with a horse that has a dip at the base of the withers would be a K panel or deeper front panel in addition to, full front gussets. It sounds like your horse could be a hoop tree type but when you fit the shoulder on a horse like that, the saddle potentially can dive into the base of the withers because it needs more panel support.

  18. Jay McGarry

    I must have missed this post. If you are still looking for info, I’m going to email you what helps us help you.

  19. Silvia Cole

    Just talked to you about our almost 9 year old warmblood

  20. Sheri

    What type of tree would you recommend for the very flat “table top” type backs with no wither?

  21. Jay McGarry

    I would recommend a hoop tree. There are other conformation aspects to consider such as the shape of the topline and if the horse narrows at the shoulder relative to the midsection. Sometimes, a hoop tree with full front gussets and a deeper front panel are also needed.

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