Tip 5: Billet Alignment

Ask yourself…
Does your saddle slide forward no matter what kind of girth or saddle pad you use?

If you answered “yes” to the above question, you may be faced with a saddle Billet Alignment issue. Watch this informative video and learn how to determine if your billets are correctly or incorrectly aligned and the possible solutions to correct the alignment and prevent your saddle from perhaps sliding up onto your horse’s shoulder.

Understanding the Importance of Correct Billet Alignment

Have you ever had to stop in the middle of your ride and reset your saddle because it has moved forward onto your horse’s shoulders? This is a common problem, and it is often caused by improper billet alignment. Unless the billets on your saddle are positioned correctly, your saddle will not stay in its proper place on your horse’s back. And no matter how many times you stop and reset the saddle, or what kind of saddle pad you use, or what shape girth you use, your saddle will continue to slide forward.

How do you know if the billets on your saddle are aligned properly for your horse? Place your saddle on your horse’s back, making sure that it is correctly situated behind his shoulder. The billets should hang perpendicular to the ground, and also should hang in the girth area. If the billets hang too far back, gravity will pull the billets forward into the girth area. The billets will, of course, pull the girth and the entire saddle along with them. The girth will always find its position at the narrowest point of the rib cage behind your horse’s elbow, and the unfortunate result is that the saddle either gets driven forward into your horse’s shoulders, or is driven clear on top of his shoulders.

Why is this unfortunate? The horse’s shoulder blade (scapula) consists of both bone and cartilage. At the least, a saddle that is pulled forward onto his shoulders acts like a straitjacket: your horse will be unable to move freely through his shoulders and his movement will be compromised, sometimes severely.

At worst, a saddle that constantly drives into your horse’s shoulders first will produce a buildup of scar tissue on his scapula. If the problem persists over the long-term, the tree points of the saddle will begin to actually chip away the bone and cartilage. Horses with this kind of irreversible damage often have telltale “holes,” particularly on their left shoulder blade, and frequently have had to be retired due to persistent unsoundness.

If the billets hang too far forward into your horse’s elbow area, they may make him sore in the elbows. And once again, gravity will drag them (and the girth and saddle along with them) back into the girth area. You might think that this is not a problem because at least your horse’s shoulders are free. However, there will be too much pressure on the panels at the rear of the saddle. Too much of the rider’s weight will be on the horse’s lumbar and kidney area. In the case of a mare, there will be excessive pressure on her ovaries. This is especially problematic when the mare is in season, and during these times she may show extreme discomfort or resistance when being saddled and ridden.

What causes improper billet alignment? Frequently, the problem is that either the width or the angle, or both the width and the angle, of your saddle’s tree is not the correct size for your horse. Look for our discussion of tree width and tree angle in future Saddle Fit Tips.

Is this a challenge you are facing? Are you experiencing other saddle fit issues? Tell us about them and let us help!

Contact miriam@schleese.com or solutions@schleese.com, book a Personal Saddle Fit Evaluation, or attend an educational lecture/demo.

Find an event near you

Equine Professional
Testimonials

Jochen Schleese is truly a master in his field, with comprehensive knowledge stemming from not only his training in saddlery but also his achievements as a rider – and he uses these attributes to reach a level of excellence in this multi-faceted industry. Jochen offers an alternative to the industry. The saddle is the connection between horse and rider and plays a massive role in this partnership. Only a balanced rider not forced into position can adhere to the goals of ‘classical riding.’ The saddle trees should accommodate specific and individual requirements for female and male riders. Only a rider with a properly made and fitted saddle can give his horse the proper aids so the horse can move free.  Although there has been much improvement in the last 20 years there are still a lot of badly fitting saddles. The industry simply requires better education, such as Saddlefit 4 Life® is giving.


      Balancing_Act_Heuschmann_BookScannedImageGerd Profile Pic 150px S4L site   Horse Roll Kur - Video Icon              S4L in Germany with JS and Gerd Heuschmann       A prerequisite for harmony between horse and rider is the pairing of a healthy, mature horse with a practiced, empathetic, sensitive, and well-trained rider.  The saddle is the connection between these two totally disparate living beings: it will either bring them together or distance them - biomechanically speaking.  This makes a well-fitting saddle key to ensure commonality in motion, as well as playing a critical role in ensuring successful training for horse and rider.  It can help a rider with a good seat find harmony with the horse, but can also restrict and prevent this if it is not fit properly to both. A well-fitting saddle will quickly allow a good rider on a young horse to attain suppleness.  Still, even the best rider will find it impossible to reach harmonious movement on the horse’s back if the saddle doesn’t fit. There is only one thing that even the best fitting saddle doesn’t guarantee, however: it will never counteract the effect of an unbalanced, tense, rough, and overall poor rider. As has recently been discussed in numerous print publications, riding has become rather far removed from its former idealistic representations, especially dressage, which has been brought into a negative light by the actions of a few controversial trainers in the industry. The negative consequences for horse and rider have been and continue to be illuminated, discussed, and evaluated.  A few saddle manufacturers have reacted to the described issues and made some major design changes in their products. In my opinion, the main issue is that a rider will have difficulty in finding an independent, pliable and balanced seat if the horse is held in a position of constant tension with the rider pushing forward in the seat to go forwards while pulling on the bit.  The saddle now needs to afford the rider additional support to augment this increased and constant tension on the reins. As a result, many modern dressage saddles now have extremely deep seats with high cantles, and huge knee rolls. They allow the rider to wedge himself securely and tensely in a deep, non-pliable seat behind giant knee rolls and hang in the reins with tight hands. Many saddle manufacturers are aware of this phenomenon and yet are powerless to change it for economic and market demand reasons. As an experienced rider and certified master saddler, Jochen Schleese has taken an alternate direction with his saddle production, which orients itself towards an unencumbered rider sitting on a relaxed horse. Only such a rider – completely balanced and not forced into position with either his seat or his legs – can adhere to the goals of ‘classical riding’.  But Jochen’s philosophy of saddle fit doesn’t stop here: the trees are made to accommodate the specific and individual requirements of both male and female riders.   Only a rider with a properly made and fitted saddle can give his horse the proper aids without clamping the thighs, relying on the hands, and sitting unbalanced on its back. We all want a horse that moves freely and without restriction.  The saddle should not cause it pain or hinder its movement. This means that the back muscles need to move freely, which is furthered by a well-fitting saddle (that may also have to take any asymmetry or unevenness into consideration).  These are also parts of the equation considered by Jochen in his work.

— Gerd Heuschmann, DVM Author of Tug of War and The Balancing Act

Recent Comments

    Meta