Total Contact Saddle
I purchased my TCS in November of 2019. I have been using it on a wide range of horses since then.
I understand the skepticism around the TCS because it does not adhere to traditional saddle fitting rules. What you need to understand is that it's not a traditional saddle.
Saddles were designed for the comfort and convenience of the rider- to help riders stay seated in battle, strong enough to support the weight of a rider and their weapons. Saddle trees were designed to accommodate a seat for the rider to sit in and protect the horse's back from it. Because trees are hard, rigid structures made from materials like metal, wood, and fiberglass, a sufficient channel is necessary to keep the tree off the spine and the nerves that run along it to prevent soreness. The TCS does not have a hard inner structure that needs to be kept off the spine.
The long back muscles attach to the spinous processes, so even when the weight bearing surface of the saddle sits on these muscles, the spine is still bearing weight. So the idea that the spine should not bear any weight is silly, when any weight on the back will put weight on the spine as well. The spine is not floating in your horse's back, it is attached to the muscles our saddles sit on and therefore bears weight too. The idea of spinal clearance is not about keeping weight off the spine, but keeping hard, painful structures off these sensitive areas to avoid causing soreness to the bony spinous processes and prevent the hard edge of the tree from interfering with the nerves that run along the spine.
Ideally with treed saddles we want there to be even contact with the horse's back along the length of the panels to avoid concentrating pressure to small areas. Again, why? Because trees are made of hard, inflexible material and when they dig into the soft tissue of your horse's back they can cause pain, bruising, and soreness. The Total Contact Saddle does not have a tree that we must protect the horse's back from. It's not the rider that the horse's back needs to be protected from, but the saddle and tree itself that was designed for the comfort of the rider.
With the TCS, the rider's weight is dispersed through the stirrups, the surface area of the saddle, and the rider's seat and thighs. As long as you have a little padding to protect the horse's back from your seat bones, that is really all that is needed. It's like riding bareback with stirrups.
People rode with literally a cushion, a set of stirrups, and animal hides for padding. It was very minimalistic like the TCS. It wasn't until people wanted to carry swords and bows and arrows, and not be knocked from their saddles during battle that we started getting pommels, cantles, and trees.
Northern Plains Pad Saddle with Buffalo Skirt and my TCS with Reindeer Hide. Not dissimilar.
If you're still worried about the lack of scientific evidence to back up the TCS, just know that you don't need a peer reviewed study to be able to tell if a saddle is causing problems. Many people will claim that the TCS will cause long term back issues and damage to the spine from one look at it, disregarding that my horses and many others have been ridden in the TCS for years and are checked regularly by equine professionals like vets, chiropractors, and bodyworkers. In addition to this, my horses are routinely palpated by myself to check their backs after rides.
Not only do their backs check out perfectly during professional evaluation and my own palpation, but my horses do not show any adverse reactions to the saddle when I tack up like many back sore horses do when they see someone approaching them with a saddle, my horses voluntarily line up at the mounting block for me to get on, and they move forward willingly and freely under saddle. If this saddle was going to cripple my horses or cause long term damage to their backs, I would know by now. I appreciate your concern, I acknowledge that this saddle does not adhere to traditional saddle fitting rules, but please understand I have firsthand experience with this saddle and accept that my horses are fine. I would have quit using it long ago if it hurt them.
Here is a user guide I have compiled for the TCS for anyone interested.
Total Contact Saddle - This video is an introduction to the TCS. It shows the saddle and what type of stirrups and girths work with it.
Total Contact Saddle FAQs - This video answers a lot of common questions about the TCS.
Total Contact Saddle Padding Setups - This video shows a few different padding setups that I like.
Total Contact Saddle - How you can tell if your horse may be experiencing back pain.