Saddle fitting can seem like rocket science to some with all of the pieces and parts of information thrown at you. Most people understand the basics, such as how adjusting the flocking can alter the fit of a saddle on the horse but, how many understand the importance of billets?
Billets, or straps as they are called in the UK, do more than anchor the girth to the saddle. They have a lot of influence on how the saddle will fit the horse. There are point billets, balance billets, swing billets, center billets, Y billets, repositionable billets, long and short billets and more. How do you know what is best for your horse and what if your saddle does or doesn’t have the correct placement?
Behind the point billet and repositionable billets
Point billet (far left) and rear billet (far right)
Angled point billet,(left) and Y billet, (right)
When a saddle fitter first looks at your horse, one of the things they take into account is the “girth groove”. That is the natural spot, behind the elbow where the girth will want to lie. Some horses have very forward girth grooves, right up against the elbow and some will have them further back. Billets will want to line up with the girth groove. However, your saddle placement will be determined, generally, by your horse’s conformation. Of course, the tree points need to be two inches behind the scapula but a low wither or high, long wither will impact that as well.
Forward girth groove
Average girth groove
Some issues that are created by incorrect billet configurations include saddles being pulled forward, sliding back, lifting up in back, and billets angled forward to name a few.
For horses with an average wither or no wither and a forward girth groove, a point billet is often recommended. A point billet is a billet that is attached on the tree point so that it will hang down in a more forward spot.
Mutton wither and forward girth groove
A horse with an average girth groove doesn’t necessarily need a point billet and angled point, behind the point and center billets will do just fine if the billets hang straight down to the girth groove.
A horse with a large or long wither often has an impact on billet placement. Center or behind the point would be preferable a point billet might want to line up too far back behind the girth groove. Additionally, an anatomic girth can be helpful in these situations as it helps the billets remain straight while the girth curves forward into the girth groove.
Impact of wither on billet placement and girth groove
Swing or self balancing billets are useful in that they adjust to where they are most effective relative to the horse’s shape.
Balance or rear billets help stabilize the rear of the saddle. If a saddle is the right shape for the horse but lifts a bit in the rear, the rear or balance billet will help keep the saddle from popping up. Additionally, if a saddle wants to slip to one side in the rear, using a rear/balance billet on the opposite side can often help curtail that.
Billet configuration can often be adjusted or altered with simple sewing, done by a professional, or if necessary, having the panels dropped to reposition them to be more effective.
Billets are an integral part of proper saddle fit. While many people will often look only at the front width to assume a saddle fits, there is a lot more to consider, billet configuration being one piece.