A spring tree is the classic style of saddle tree used in English riding saddles. The tree is constructed from Birch plywood and reinforced with Spring Steel that is fixed onto the rails of the tree and through the centre. Hence the term Spring Tree. The spring steel not only strengthens the tree but also allows the wood an element of flexibility. The flexibility in the tree can range from soft to firm dependant on what angle the layers of 1.5mm birch are laid up giving a number of choices for saddle makers.
First designed and used in Walsall UK in the 1940¹s it has been estimated that to date there have been over 3 million spring trees produced for saddles world wide. Although the principles remain the same the technology and understanding of design has evolved greatly over the years. The British Standard BS: 6635 2003 states that Wooden Spring Saddle Trees must be produced to the latest engineering standards and with a symmetry tolerance of + / – 2mm. Many of the worlds leading saddle makers will produce on Wooden Spring Trees.
Old fashioned Rigid trees, which are still common in polo saddles and some of the less expensive Indian-made saddles, are all wood without any spring steel reinforcement; they¹re heavier and don¹t have the flex a spring tree offers.
Plastic Injection-moulded trees or ‘polymer’ can be flexible or rigid but do not also offer the degree of different profiles that can be offered with wooden spring trees.
Serge panels are an alternative to leather for the underneath bearing surface of a saddle. This is an age old traditional way of panelling still used today in side-saddles, which in recent years has seen a comeback.
Serge is natural material which is made of wool. Wool is the best material to absorb moisture and then disperse this naturally over a period of time. Not only will it make your saddle lighter in weight, but it is also kinder to your horse’s back.
Many customers report significant improvement in their horses shape and movement once they start using serge.
It helps to eliminate slipping and as it is extremely soft and kind to their backs.
It can also be suitable for ‘cold backed’ horses. If your horse shows signs of tension when you put the saddle on and/or mount, this extra softness and relative warmth in comparison to leather panels in cold conditions can help to ease this.
Serge is very popular in endurance riding, as the rate of heat and moisture absorption is far quicker than leather, so the back is kept cooler for longer. Hence making this particularly beneficial in warmer climates.
Most commonly saddles that have serge panels are still used with a saddle cloth which helps to keep it clean, however it can be used without if required.
Cleaning is often the largest worry for riders considering serge, however if used with a pad then this is a simple as using a soft brush to remove any loose hairs or a small suede shoe cleaning brush for anything a little more stubborn. The material requires no conditioning or treatment and as with leather allow to dry naturally if it does get wet.
For your saddle fitter, a serge panel can have the flocking regulated with an awl directly through the panel which is not possible with leather.
There is no doubt that foam panels have improved no end in recent years, to the extent that even custom made foam panels are available in some of the higher end brands. However this is great when you are buying a new saddle for your horse and it fits there and then, but what happens when you have a difficult to fit horse or your horse changes shape, as most do at a later date?
This is where wool comes into its own, not only will a wool panel be flocked to fit your horse in the first instance but has the properties to be adjusted accordingly at subsequent intervals. If it is a young horse the balance front to back is likely to change as he is still growing, saddles with front and back gussets allow the freedom to add or soften to achieve this. Perhaps he is an older horse and muscle atrophy is starting to appear, again wool panels can be flocked independently left to right to achieve a better balance.
A panel can be reflocked completely throughout its lifetime by a saddler and in some instances foam panels are often converted by preference to wool.
In addition, wool is a ‘natural’ material and has remarkable properties. It will mould to the shape of your horses back, it is proven be shock absorbing, can help to reduce friction, absorbs up to 30% of its own weight in moisture and draws heat away from the horses back.