In our business we hear people refer to different types of saddle trees by name: mule, gaited, semi quarter-horse, quarter-horse, full quarter-horse, Arab-Morgan, draft and so on. It’s important to realize that there is absolutely no standard for any of these. If we lined up three ‘quarter-horse’ trees, from three different manufacturers, you would see that not only would there be significant differences in gullet height and width (which is supposed to define the type), but also in the rock, twist and flare of the bars.
We have talked to people who have had a saddle made by Brand A Tree Co with ‘quarter-horse’ bars that fit their horse fine and then they go out and get a new saddle made by Brand B Tree Co with ‘quarter-horse bars’ also and they end up with a sore backed horse. It is a total misconception to think that all tree makers have some manual that defines exact measurements for all of these types of trees.
Even using common tree measurements, gullet, spread, etc., it is impossible to accurately describe something as complex as the three dimensional shape of a horse or mule’s back. There is no industry wide standards for the manufacturing of saddle trees. It’s every saddle tree maker for themselves.
Another common misconception is that if you have a mule you just need to go out and buy a saddle with mule bars and that all there is too it. Or, if you have an Arabian you just need a saddle with Arab bars. With all the diversity there is within each breed these days, you could have three quarter horses, one who needs a semi quarter-horse tree, one who needs an Arabian tree and one who needs mule type bars.
You absolutely cannot fit a mule or horse just by knowing the breed. All of these animals are individuals. These trees will fit the average of each of the breeds but not all of them. If we take ten men who are 6’ tall and weigh 180 lbs, five of them would look fine in an off the rack suit. The other five would have varying levels of success because they aren’t ‘average’ enough. A couple of them might even have to have a tailored suit custom made for them.
When shopping for a new or used saddle, the saying, ‘Let the buyer beware’ certainly applies!