I traded my full-leather endurance saddle for a Bandos treeless saddle. I’ve never tried a treeless saddle on Confetti before. We’re currently in the midst of saddle fitting woes and it seemed like a reasonable experiment. There is an appalling lack of information available out there about these specific saddles, so this is an extra-long review post with a lot of details.
My very first impression was that it has very long billet straps. I’m not just saying this because Confetti is small. I started off with the 26″ girth that I’m not currently using for anything else. Pretty dramatically too big. I might have been able to manage it, but it would have been on the top hole on both sides. The 18″ girth is more than halfway up the holes. If you get one of these saddles, I strongly advise a small girth to go with it!
My understanding is that the Bandos was made by Freeform. It is no longer in production and there is an amazing lack of reviews about it. It was sold by Action Rider Tack. It’s also labeled AE Saddleworks, which I don’t know anything about offhand.
The seat is not especially grippy. I’d want to add a sheepskin, swap out the seat (I seem to remember seeing something about this being a possibility) or ride in full-seat breeches. It’s also possible that shortening my stirrups will resolve some of this. I had a really hard time staying secure on the hills. I did shorten my stirrups on a later ride and found that helped with stability, but did not ride enough hills to know if it would have mattered there.
The Bandos has a lot of saddle under the leg. It’s not uncomfortable, but it is there. I have short legs and I ride a pony: this means that with a barrel-shaped pad that does not go all the way down, it’s OK. With a full-sized endurance wool pad, I can make contact with my heels when I make an effort to do so. I suspect that a “split bottom” Skito or similar is in my future if I keep this saddle to minimize how much bulk is underneath my leg while still allowing some pad below the saddle. After stalking a few treeless groups, I think the biggest problem here is Fetti’s shape: she’s too round for this much saddle plus that much pad. A less-round horse with a short rider would probably be just fine.
To be totally fair, short leg / pony syndrome has been a problem with my dressage saddle too, and that’s part of why I don’t ride in a full-size Woolback with my dressage saddle all the time, or pretty much ever these days! It’s nowhere near this bad, but it is definitely harder to make contact when not very much of my leg reaches below the saddlepad.
It’s a very comfortable saddle. It reminds me a lot of riding bareback, as I can really feel her moving underneath me, and I am quite pleased with that. It is wide, but not unreasonably so. My thighs were sore after four hours of riding – but I am inclined to blame that on the 45 minutes of incessant kicking and the fact that my stirrups were too long, not on the saddle itself. There was at least one full-body spook, one half-spin, and a whole lot of irritable fuss that I sat without feeling insecure.
The pommel insert up front is solid (fiberglass) and allows for sufficient clearance on Fetti, who is moderately round. Both pommel and cantle inserts (also solid fiberglass) can be replaced with soft inserts if so desired, and maybe even with narrower (or wider) inserts, although that’s entirely hypothetical on my part.
There are a lot of D-rings and it would not be difficult to attach both pommel and cantle bags along with breastcollar, crupper, and sponge. We rode down some substantial hills with crupper attached and nothing broke, nor was I worried that it would. I’m the queen of breaking crupper rings. That’s a pretty key test for me!
The stirrup placement is adjustable. The entire thing can be un-velcroed from underneath the seat, lifted up, and put back into whatever place you desire. There are closed loops for the leathers to go through. My saddle came with homemade leather covers. There is nowhere for the excess leather to go, so I believe that’s a necessity with this sort of setup, otherwise there’s just a lot of leather potentially rubbing your leg. Pictured are 1″ English leathers.
I see at least one online review saying that it fell apart after 6-8 months of use. I can’t speak to the 6-8 months of use, but I don’t think they’ve been sold since 2012, and the saddle does look like it’s been used before. It’s at least a 3-4 year old saddle and it is still in excellent shape as far as saddles go. I can’t say it won’t happen, but that does not appear to be an immediate problem.
The seat on mine has a wrinkle. I didn’t notice it while riding. I believe the seats are replaceable. If it bothered me, I would have considered adding a sheepskin cover – except that I kept running my thighs into the pommel. I’m pretty sure the seat is too small for me. There were a few mentions online about the seat running a bit small, but also a few about how it seemed OK. It feels like a 17″ English / 15″ Western, and I normally ride in an 18″ English / 16″ Western seat.
Which, after measuring, appears to be the case. It’s 16″ to the back of the saddle, but only 15″ to the seat. I’m 5’6″, 140lb, and it is definitely too small for me. There were two seat sizes made, and I have no idea which this is.
Thus concludes our treeless experiment. I need something I can confidently mount from the ground. I need something that does not slide (much) on hills. Treeless saddles are largely not going to fit that description for Fetti. Even if they were, this particular saddle is too bulky (fleece all the way down the panels) for Confetti and too small in the seat for me. I’ll be listing the Bandos for sale this week.