Go Lightly has been speaking of tenting in saddle pads a bit lately. I have to thank her for something concerning that. I will explain why a bit later...
For now though, you can all thank her for bringing it up. Since we are discussing saddle fit, it will help to explain the 'tenting' by starting back at the beginning. Like the saddle tree. The saddle tree really determines whether or not the saddle will fit the horse. The tree will also vary to some degree, depending on the use it is designed for.
This image from Sugar River Saddlery and Tack in Wisconsin, shows a number of different trees, ready to be made into saddles. They will actually ship you the tree to fit on your horse, before they start to make your saddle. Of course there is a deposit and forms and stuff, but honestly, I have not heard of many if any saddlery shops that will do this. In most cases, saddles either fit your horse or they don't.
I found the website by looking for examples of the western saddle trees. Pictures to help us 'visually guided' folks...
This is their solid oak tree with bronze horn. It shows the way a saddle tree fits on the horses back. Obviously this tree is a bit wide for the 'horse' it is on since the pommel is a bit low and would be making for a sore back, but it is shaped a lot like the english saddle trees, with a nice wide space for the spine.
They also offer trees comprised of a few different components. Polymer Tree, Wood Tree Option for Covering, Fiberglass Wrapped, Bull Hide Wrapped (Rawhide), Flex Tree & ProTech.
A lot of the saddles on the market come in the standard- bullhide/rawhide wrapped wood tree, fiberglass tree, fiberglass wrapped tree and with technology advancements more options offering lighter weight, greater strength and longer saddle life, there is much to choose from and something for everyone. Then there are other companies offering treeless saddles.
Some of the saddle trees offer more of an actual seat on them. When you look at them as a bare nekkid skeleton, they look more like this one-
It looks like this picture is from a forum from the horse channel. Anyone care to say what they like or dislike about this type of tree? There are two things I find right off, that makes me think about continuing my search if I were shopping for a saddle.
The underside of a finished saddle here-
For those who don't already know, this is the correct way to set down a western saddle if you do not have a stand or rack for it. The horn and front of the saddle go down. Depending on the horn length and size, it may keep the saddle from falling over onto the seat and cantle, if not, you may need to lean it agains something to help it stay upright.
With this one, keep in mind, the riders position in the seat, would be right between the two rear cinch straps. Right about the back of the channel between the saddle bars, towards the top of the saddle as pictured. The rear of the saddle shows the skirts stitched or laced together. Many saddles on the market are constructed like this. The lacing of the skirts is another thing preventing the saddle pad from being tented the length of the horses spine, allowing for airflow. Add in the thickness of the pads and it makes it a bit harder to do. Not all saddle though, have the fleece lining the channel of the saddle. Some are left a bit more open.
Everyone can do their best to tent the pads, but as the horse moves, the pad may slip down and rest on the back. This can in some cases cause problems. Some pads offer built in channels to allow air flow along the spine. Sometimes you just have to make exceptions and work with what you have.
Hopefully this will explain a few things for her and help others understand their saddles from the inside out.