In order to maintain optimal saddle fit as your horse develops, the tree needs to be adjustable in both width and angle at the gullet plate. The width of the gullet channel (including panel flocking) and the billet system also need to be adaptable.
The gullet plate and the accompanying spring steel works cooperatively to support the saddle behind the shoulder, providing stability to allow the rider to sit balanced and work in harmony with the horse. It needs to be rigid enough to take the pressure off the wither at the top and sides (in effect ‘building a bridge’ over the wither). To ensure this happens, both width and angle of the gullet plate are critical.
Correct tree angle is an important factor in achieving freedom of movement for the horse. We must ensure the tree points of the saddle tree lie flush on the horse’s muscles and thereby avoid extra pressure at the sides of the wither. When evaluating fit in the crossties, the saddle should have extra space (2-3 fingers clearance) at both the top and sides of the withers, which will allow the muscle to expand during movement. Therefore, the angle of the gullet plate should not match the wither angle. The angle of the gullet plate needs to be the same as the angle of the shoulder blade. This allows the rotating shoulder blade freedom for unencumbered backwards/upwards movement ‘sliding through’ the tree points during motion. The signs of a saddle with incorrect shoulder angle are unwanted behaviours such as not going forward, head coming up, stumbling, and a cranky horse. This necessary shoulder freedom which is often neglected can also result in white hairs on the side of the withers and irreparable damage at the shoulder cartilage.
These undesirable outcomes are preventable. Ask a Certified Saddle Ergonomist, Saddle Fit Technician or professional saddle fitter for an 80 point Diagnostic saddle fit evaluation to help you and your horse achieve optimal saddle fit.
Author of ‘Suffering in Silence - The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013) Jochen Schleese teaches riders and professionals to recognize saddle fit issues in Saddlefit 4 Life lectures and seminars. We help you find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Diagnostic Evaluation.