The “B” Word: What Most Saddle Fitters Don’t Talk About

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:

Billet Design

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.

Bouncing Saddle

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.

Sliding Saddle

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.

Unbalanced Saddle

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.

Wrapping Up

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: care@totalsaddlefit.com.

Cheers!

Justin

 

8 Comments

  1. Donna on June 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Love this article! In the past I have gone out to a customer as they say they are having issues with their saddle/ horse and all I have done is changed a girth or billet options. Saved them a lot of money as no need to replace their saddle

    • tsf on June 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Thank you!! Yes it is amazing how much affect billets can have.

  2. Ann on July 18, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Just got one of your girths to help my Morgan mare … Her saddle already has a point billet but her shoulders are so laid back and her girth groove is SO far forward that the saddle (a Trilogy Debbie) will slide into her shoulders even with your girth — although it is far less of a problem with your girth than with any other I have tried. Saddle does need some flocking adjustments, probably needs some of the flocking taken out of the front panels as she has better muscling below her withers now, but I am afraid this will make it slide even further forward. Any suggestions?

    • tsf on August 7, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Ann,
      It sounds like you could use some kind of flocking/tree work as well. Any time a saddle gets out of balance it becomes way more prone to shifting, sliding etc. For me to provide any substantial advice, I’d need to see some pictures. Could you start be sending an email to care@totalsaddlefit.com with a full explanation of what is going on?

      Thanks,
      Justin

  3. Linda on October 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    My horse has a long wither, moderately high and a forward girth groove. Saddle placement to give the scapula clearance has caused most billets to be too far behind the groove and with previous saddles, the saddle and girth side backwards. I know this is supposed to move the saddle forward but it hasn’t. I bought a saddle with a point billet as well as a “v” billet even though it is for saddles that slide forward. The point billet falls straight down into the groove and so far, the saddle hasn’t slipped backward. Is this working correctly for me because the point billet is falling directly into the groove?

    • tsf on October 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Linda,
      From your description, and what could be happening, I’d say you have one of the “better” problems in the world of saddle fit… granted it is still an issue that needs to be addressed.

      It’s good that you got a saddle with a point billet and a V billet. The rear attachment of the V billet is a huge help in keeping the saddle from moving back on you. And point billets are good for keeping a saddle planted, even though they are typically a solution for a saddle sliding forward. Without seeing your horse, my guess is the V billet (and how it is attached to the tree) is the big saving grace for keeping the saddle from sliding back.

      Thanks!

      Justin

  4. Brita Rizzi on August 24, 2015 at 7:17 am

    As a saddle fitter I try to avoid a point billet if I can. New saddles are ordered with the rear swing (sliding) billet, the nylon on the point billet and a straight billet. The only time I use the point billet if a horse has a large barrel and a very forward girth groove. The girth wants to move forward to the narrowest part of the rib cage and pulls the saddle with it. It is then more uncomfortable for the horse to have the saddle sit on its shoulder blades vs. it staying better in place with the point billet.
    Amazing how many horses are so much happier with the straight billet set up!

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