Treeless Saddles for Gaited Horses & Tips for You

Gaited horse ridden in a Freeform Scout Treeless Saddle in the country.

As a gaited horse rider – my husband and I have three – and treeless saddle designer, I wanted to share what I’ve learned over the years. 80% of my clientele are women over the age of 50. Most are trail riders. Many have turned to gaited horses because it can be difficult or uncomfortable to sit a trot anymore. This happened to me. More on that later.

Your horse can get uncomfortable too. After fitting many gaited horses over the years in our Freeform saddles, I now have four treeless saddles especially suited to gaited horses – and also comfortable for a woman’s seat. I hope this information helps you and your horse in some way. If you have questions, I’m here to help. Our gaited horses need well fitting comfy saddles – and we do too.

How Gaited Horses Are Different & Why Treeless Is A Good Choice

Gaited horses are well known for being comfortable to ride. Confirmation has a lot to do with comfortable gaits. With gaited horses, the shoulder is at a steeper angle and therefore moves differently than a trotting horse.

The gaited horse naturally has a long stride, which can often be restricted by conventional treed saddles. Treed saddles can pinch and put pressure on the shoulder of a gaited horse when it’s moving. What fits when you’re standing still may not be working when you’re moving. Especially with the forks in the western saddles. I have seen damage done. Treeless saddles, on the other hand, allow for free and full extension of your horse’s shoulders.

Additionally, the movement of the gaited horse can tend to move a saddle. With this in mind, I’ve added center fire rigging for our treeless saddles. Our saddles come with the option of using dressage style girthing – or center fire rigging. Isn’t it great to have the choice of what girthing you can use? This makes the saddle even more versatile.

Center fire rigging in the PathfinderPJ treeless saddle

Center fire rigging in the Pathfinder PJ treeless saddle

Your pad choice is important too. For the gaited horses, I build a saddle pad that is thinner in the first 2-3” of the front of the pad insert to allow movement. Each saddle pad we make is specifically made for the horse and the weight of the rider.

Why Allowing Free Shoulder Movement Is Important for A Gaited Horse

Free shoulder movement is especially important for gaited horses. Special thanks to noted gaited horse trainer Ivy Schexnayder for contributing the following for this article:

“To be balanced and have a correct 4-beat-gait, gaited horses need to be able to lift the base of their neck and to lift their shoulders. Part of that involves being able to have full range of motion of the elbow and shoulder (scapula).

Most any saddle sits on – or just above/behind – the scapula. This is one area that an ill-fitting saddle can impede the gait. If the saddle tips too far forward, if the tree is too narrow or too wide, if the angle of the tree is incorrect for the horse’s shoulders, the saddle will cause pain as the scapula slides back and hits the saddle. This will cause the horse to tense his back and not lift his legs.

To get an evenly-timed 4-beat gait, we need the horse to be able to lift and go through the full range of motion with his front end, allowing him time to put the back foot down before the front foot (on the same side). When this range of motion is impeded, the horse is more likely to pace, throwing the timing into a two beat or an uneven 4-beat.

We want a saddle that easily allows the horse freedom of movement, especially in the shoulder area. Any tension will likely cause the pace or choppy trot. And any pain in the shoulder can lead to the horses cutting his movement short and creating short striding rather than freedom of movement.”

Anything that interferes with free shoulder movement – whether it’s a saddle that pinches or a rider who grips with her knees or thighs – is restricting the horse’s forward movement and the comfort of the ride.

In the video below, watch gaited horse trainer Ivy Schexnayder ride Spice in slow motion. Notice how freely Spice’s shoulders extend and how comfortable her gait is. It’s beautiful.

Why Treeless Saddles & Gaited Horses Are Great for Women

It all comes down to comfort and security, doesn’t it ladies? As I’ve gotten older, I want (need) more security. Many of my clients have requested this too. 80% of my clientele are women over the age of 50. Most are trail riders. Many have turned to gaited horses because it can be difficult or uncomfortable to sit a trot anymore. This happened to me.

After many years of endurance riding, I’ve turned to the world of gaited horses. I had a nasty accident seven years ago – a severe brain injury and neck injury. I am no longer able to ride a trotting horse.  In order for me to continue riding, I turned to my husband’s gaited horse.

Comfort in the seat wasn’t always something I was looking for as a rider. When doing long distance conditioning rides, you’re posting. There’s no need to be totally comfortable in a seat. Gaiting changes all that. You’re sitting on your horse all day. Not only is it important for your saddle to fit your horse, but it also needs to be fitted to you and be comfortable. My Dad used to laugh at me and asked if I used aspirin on my saddle seat. No, Dad. I took the easier route and designed my own seats to fit a woman’s pelvic bones specifically. Many have commented that I have the most comfortable seats you can find.

Gaited horses and treeless saddles equal comfort for both horse and rider.

Paulita Neff with her gaited Tennessee Walker horse

Me and my Tennessee Walker, Justin. The saddle is the Patherfinder PJ, my latest, most comfortable and secure treeless saddle design. My husband, Jeff, requested that I had some type of a knee roll to the Pathfinder. He wanted something to keep his leg comfortable going down hill and while gaiting. Great idea honey!

Treeless Saddles for Gaited Horses

My treeless saddles are lightweight and flexible in directions that allow the saddle to adjust immediately to the movements of the horse. The construction of these saddles allows for free and full extension of the horse’s shoulders, unencumbered by the rigidity of a tree. The pommel area is non weight-bearing and the horse can move forward without restriction or pain. This helps to build or rebuild the horse’s topline.

For you, the rider, I’ve designed all my saddles to make sure you feel comfortable and secure in your seat and ride in a balanced position. In the proper position, you’ll feel relief from back, knee and neck pain.

Mount up, smile and enjoy the ride in one of our many treeless trail riding saddles that work beautifully for gaited horses and riders.

Pathfinder PJ


The Pathfinder PJ offers superb comfort and security with added knee roll and pommel. Center fire rigging is great with Gaited horses. Comfy seat for trail riding. Ride downhill with ease. Custom colors available.



The Pathfinder – the most comfortable and secure trail saddle we have designed yet. Deep cantle holds you in. Beautiful Nubuck seat adds comfort with a bit of grip. Soft interchangeable pommel provides security. Cutback to fit all withers – from mutton to shark fin. Also available with leathers.

Ultimate Trail


The Ultimate Trail – Our most popular saddle! Wonderful gel seat fits a woman’s pelvic bones. Puts you in a balanced position – and keeps you in the saddle for many hours of riding. You’ll love the comfort and security of it.



The Scout – Great for endurance, distance, gaiting & Trail. Extra secure seat with fork/pommel & a narrow twist. If you prefer fenders instead of leathers, please see the Pathfinder with Fenders.

Tips from Gaited Horse Trainer Ivy Schexnayder Starnes

My husband Jeff and I were lucky enough to attend one of Ivy’s gaited horse clinics in 2019. We learned many tips, but Head’s Down was one of our favorites. Here are some of Ivy’s tips on the importance of Head’s Down exercises:

  • Head’s down exercises help raise your horse’s back, which helps your horse balance, relax, and stretch.
  • When horses are beginning to learn to gait, they have a hard time maintaining gaiting at a fast speed. A lot of speed is due to trying to keep balanced.
  • Head down helps pacey horses, helps nervous horses relax, and helps get a horse to balance and slow down.
  • Dropping the head also allows more engagement from the hind end.
  • Proper head position is a factor of your horse’s confirmation. Having the nose in or out is not important. A level topline is.
  • The more head’s down you do, the more loose rein you give, the more you stop and praise, the more your horse improves.

You can see all Ivy’s training videos here. She offers free access to her Head’s Down training video too. You can find her on Facebook at Ivy’s Horses and on YouTube too.

Ivy Schexnayder asking Jeff's horse for Head Down. Saddle is a Freeform Scout.

Ivy Schexnayder Starnes asking Jeff’s horse for Head Down. Saddle is a Freeform Scout Treeless Saddle.


Gaited horse doing head down exercise in an Ivy Schexnayder clinic

Jeff doing a Head’s Down exercise at Ivy’s gaited horse clinic.

Questions? Contact Us!

Please contact us with questions or call (540) 271-4577. Whitney and I are committed to comfort for horse and rider and can help with fitting as well. We look forward to helping you.

Happy Trails ~ Paulita & Whitney

Helpful Resources to Learn More:

  • Fitting Your Horse & You - Choosing the right saddle and pad, factoring in weight, fitting with panels, evaluating cinch/girth length and tips for trying out your saddle
  • Overview of Freeform Saddles - Find out what makes Freeform unique, including saddle details; sizing, features and options; and saddle care.
  • FAQs - Often when someone is considering changing from something they are used to - like a saddle with a tree, to an unknown - like a saddle without a tree, they have many questions. Find answers in our FAQs.
  • Watch Videos - Get saddle fitting tips, saddle spotlights, saddle care & setup tips, plus quick changes with accessories and tips for gaited horses
  • Saddle Guides - Considering treeless saddles for your gaited horse? Start here Saddles for Gaited Horses & Tips for You, See also Saddles for Trail Riding and for Endurance Riding.
  • Saddle Demo Program - We work with you one-on-one to ensure the best fit for you and your horse. We’re proud to say that our saddle return rate is less than 6%.
  • Raves from Riders - Browse the many raves that riders have shared over the years about the benefits of Freeform treeless saddles