We truly do live in the “Information Age.” You can type pretty much anything into your favorite Internet search engine, and within seconds, you’ll probably get thousands of results. But if you’ve ever spent much time looking for information this way, you’ll know that some information is accurate, some information is a bit less accurate, and some “information” is outright propaganda … and it can be difficult to determine which is which.
One area in which a lot of “information” exists is the realm of changeable gullet and adjustable tree saddles. As you know if you’ve read my “More Than Width” series of articles, tree width is only one part of the “holy trinity” of saddle fitting – a very important part, yes, but by no means the only part. However, if you look into changeable gullet and adjustable tree saddles, you’d think that being able to change the width of your saddle tree was the be-all and end-all. Here’s a sample of the info available from some of the saddle companies that offer that option:
“This system is completely user friendly and allows the rider to adjust the saddle to fit almost any type of horse …”
“… Change your saddle’s fit to suit your horse’s changing shape …”
“The rider can modify the width of the tree using any of our adjustable gullet plates … The tree can perfectly adapt itself to the withers and back of any horse.”
“… Allows a single saddle to custom fit all your horses …”
“The adjustable gullet plate allows the saddle to be changed … to allow for growth in your horse.”
Before I go any further, let me very clearly state that I’m not denigrating these saddles in any way – we sell them here at the shop, and if they’re used properly, they can be a wonderful option. But in the interest of full disclosure, let’s looks at the facts.
First, this is what changing the gullet or adjusting the tree of a saddle WILL do.
- It will change the width at the front of the saddle, in the pommel/tree point area.
- It will make the channel between the panels slightly wider in the front one-quarter to one-third of the length.
When the saddle is at its widest, the width between the front panels/tree points is almost 8”.
Now here’s the Laser as narrow as I could make it go:
At this setting, the width between the panels/tree points is about 6”. The approximate 2” difference translates to roughly two and a half tree widths (the average difference between widths in UK-made saddles being about 3/4” or 2 cm.) – say, a narrow to an x-wide.
On a changeable gullet saddle, the measurements won’t be exactly the same, the principle holds. The front gets wider, but not much else changes.
Now, let’s take a look at what changing the gullet or adjusting the tree will NOT do:
- It will not change the type of the tree (regular to hoop or Freedom head, for example) or the breadth across the top of the pommel arch.
- It will not change the overall front-to-back curve or “rocker” of the tree.
- It will not change the placement of the panels.
- It will not change the panel configuration.
- It will not change the width of the channel in the rear 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the saddle.
While these saddles aren’t the magic bullet that a lot of people would like you to believe, they ARE a great choice in certain circumstances. If you have a horse that goes in and out of condition regularly, being able to change the tree width can save you a lot of fiddling with shims and correction pads. (In fact, the originator of the adjustable tree, Maj. Jeremy Beale, designed the saddle to accommodate the changes in condition that his event horses went through in the course of a year.) Other helpful options are the “conformation specific” models that Kent & Masters and Thorowgood make – the Standard, the Broadback/Cob, and the High-Wither. Each model has fitting options in panel and tree that are geared toward its “target” conformation, so you can better accommodate what your horse will need in terms of tree shape and panel configuration as well as width. Additionally, these saddles have wool-flocked panels, so a knowledgeable fitter can make adjustments in the flocking to help further customize the fit.
Will these saddles fit every horse and cure every saddle fitting problem under the sun? No. But then, that’s true of ANY saddle, no matter how expensive or popular. These offer a degree of flexibility and an eye toward more than just width that can make them a very valid choice for some pretty challenging backs.