You’ve probably had your ear chewed off by your saddle fitter discussing how to make your saddle fit using billet design, right?? NOT! If you’re saddle fitter has discussed it then I applaud her, as she is most certainly in the minority. The large majority of saddle fitters like to discuss flocking adjustments as the be-all end-all solution to fitting a saddle. And occasionally some suggest making a tree adjustment. It must be that those two adjustments are the most outwardly obvious and visible changes to make to a saddle. But the options don’t end there!
The fact is, flocking and tree adjustments definitely are important changes to make a saddle fit better, but they are not the only two pieces of the puzzle. There is another valuable fitting option to address, and that is billet design. In case that phrase is a little ambiguous sounding, all it really means is how and where the billets are attached to a saddle. There are multiple types of billet configuration: point billets, straight billets and V billets. Each configuration has a distinct saddle fitting purpose/outcome. But before I get to the fitting information, here is a definition of each configuration:
Point Billet – The billet at the very front of the saddle tree, that actually connects to the tip of the tree point.
Straight Billet – A billet connected by one anchor point to any given location on a tree. You often see straight billets connected side-by-side in the center of the tree, as almost all jump saddles come this way from the factory.
V Billet – A billet connected at two anchor points on a tree, connected with a self-adjusting hinge. The concept is to give the most even tension distribution over the tree.
This image of a dressage saddle should give you a good idea of the different styles:
How to Use Billets to Your Advantage
If reflocking the panels or adjusting the tree doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to address the billets. Configuring billets the right way for a particular horse and saddle can alleviate some common saddle issues: bouncing, sliding forward/backward and improper balance. Now we will get into how to solve these issues with the billet design.
If your saddle bounces in the rear, it could be that the billet webbing (the part that connects between the tree and the leather billet) is not mount far enough back on the tree. For a saddle with this problem, the webbing should be mounted near the rear of the tree. When the girth is tightened, this will assure the tension is spread to the back of the tree and will settle the bouncy rear of the saddle down. This is a common solution with jump saddles and older style dressage saddles. Depending on the severity of the bouncing, this can be done with a V billet design or a straight billet mounted far in the rear.
If your saddle slides forward, it could mean that you need a point billet attached to the tree. A point billet holds the head of the tree (aka, the gullet plate) in place. This keeps the front of the tree from lifting off the back, which in turn keeps the saddle from sliding forward.
A saddle with two straight billets in the center of the tree can often make the saddle lift in the front and throw the rider’s weight to the back of the seat. In this case a point billet can help keep the front of the saddle in place, and avoid “floating” up in the front.
On the other side of the spectrum, if a saddle with a point billet is sitting low (and possibly tight) in the front of the tree, that could mean the point billet is causing too much downward pressure in the front. This is most common with narrow/high wither Thoroughbred types. In this situation it is often wise to remove the point billet and replace it with two center straight billets.
There are a lot of different billet options and solutions from horse to horse, as each fitting challenge is unique. If you are curious about your horse and how billet design can help, be sure to ask a question in the comments or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.