I’ve worked as a saddle fitter for over 20 years. Since I began, new technology and improvements to saddle design have given horse owners more options than ever before to match their horses with a properly fitted saddle. Of these, none has had more impact on saddle making and saddle fitting than the invention of the interchangeable gullet plate.
What is an Interchangeable Gullet Plate? How do Interchangeable Gullet Systems Work?
Gullet plates primarily affect the width of the pommel, or head of the saddle, around the withers. Specifically, gullet plates are boomerang-shaped metal bars that are attached to the underside of the pommel arch of the tree. These metal arches are set at different widths to accommodate the different widths of a horse’s wither. With the removal of a few screws, the gullet plate width can be changed from Narrow to Extra Wide in a matter of minutes.
Now that the original patent has expired, more and more saddlemakers are incorporating a version of the interchangeable gullet system in the design of their saddles. I work with several saddle companies that offer an interchangeable gullet option: Bates and Wintec, Thorowgood, Kent & Master, Fairfax, Pessoa, Ovation, Collegiate, Intrepid, and Bliss of London. In my professional opinion, these saddles are here to stay—with good reason!
They are undeniably economical.
No matter your budget, whether you’re scouring Facebook for a second-hand steal or custom ordering full-buffalo with all the bells and whistles, equestrians are increasingly looking to maximize the value of every dollar. Traditional laminated beechwood spring trees can be adjusted by a qualified saddler and/or saddle fitter in a workshop, but this can be expensive, time consuming and can’t be done more than once or twice.
Practically speaking, if your horse is growing, in training or recovery, or changing shape with the seasons, you’re looking at either purchasing a new saddle, or risking damage to your horse’s back with a poorly-fitting saddle. As we all know, the search for even one saddle that fits both horse and rider can be expensive, frustrating, and time-consuming. Add a second saddle (or a third!) and the costs add up quickly.
A saddle with an interchangeable gullet plate system–assuming the shape of the tree fits your horse well to begin with–can accommodate these situations easily, economically, and often. The ability to change the fitting of these saddles is infinite. Features like the flocked panels in Kent & Masters and Fairfax saddles, and the EASY-CHANGE Riser System in Bates and Wintec saddles also allow for balance and stability adjustments.
Have more than one horse with different shapes? No problem – these saddles are affordable enough to have one saddle for each horse! Each horse has its own unique shape and one saddle may not work for multiple horses. The versatility of interchangeable gullet plate saddles make fitting multiple saddles to multiple horses inexpensive and easy.
You don’t have to sacrifice quality for adjustability.
Years ago, an interchangeable gullet plate system was associated more with utility than luxury. Now, you can find an adjustable saddle to fit nearly any style of riding and aesthetic. The new Wintec saddles offer thoughtful design, quality materials, and adjustable fitting options at an accessible price point. Bates Saddles, a pioneer of the interchangeable gullet system, has recently stepped up their game with the upgraded Luxe leather option and moveable thigh blocks for optimal leg position. If you like the look and feel of traditional wool-flocked panels, Thorowgood, Kent & Masters, and Fairfax Saddles offer seven changeable gullet width options along with pure British wool flocking and innovative designs to improve the comfort and performance of your horse.
In 2018, Bliss of London entered the ring with the Loxley by Bliss line of saddles. These saddles now include a standard option for an adjustable tree with six changeable gullet plates from Narrow Medium to Extra Extra Wide, along with Bliss’ signature array of contrasting leathers, welting, and other design options.
Exchanging gullet plates is easy, convenient, and empowers horse owners to take charge of saddle fit.
Fitting saddles is my passion and life’s work. It is so rewarding when I’m able to find the saddle that helps a horse carry a rider pain-free, or make some adjustments that allow horse and rider to unlock that next level of performance. There’s a lot of information out there on saddle fitting, but much of it can be confusing, overwhelming, or misleading to the average horse owner who just wants to ride with a healthy, happy, and comfortable partner.
Many saddles with an interchangeable gullet plate system include a hands-on guide, like the Easy-Change Gullet Gauge from Bates and Wintec, that help riders select the best width for their horses and monitor changes in their horses’ condition over time. While these tools won’t replace the expertise of a qualified saddle fitter, they’re an excellent starting point for riders to get some practical experience fitting their own saddles.
Your saddle fitter can help.
As a saddle fitter, rider, and horse owner, I’m so glad to have these options for easily adjustable trees, and eagerly look forward to seeing how new technology and improvements in saddle design continue to benefit horse and rider. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no single solution that will work for every horse—and this includes saddles with interchangeable gullet plates. If the gullet channel is not wide enough, or the angle of the rails or shape of the tree does not match the angle of your horse’s back, then that saddle will not properly fit your horse no matter which plate is used. Here’s where your saddle fitter comes in! A qualified, independent fitter can determine which saddles may be suitable regardless of brand, and help match you with a saddle that will stay with you and your horse for many years.
Looking for an interchangeable gullet plate saddle?
From now through December 31, 2018, Bates and Wintec saddles are giving back with holiday promotions to help you celebrate with your new saddle. With every qualifying new saddle purchase, Bates is offering a free upgrade to Luxe calfskin leather*. Or, purchase a new Wintec saddle and receive your choice of 3 gifts**.
We’re so excited for these giveaways, we’re adding an extra discount for our clients who decide to take advantage of one of these offers. From now to December 31, when you purchase a new Bates or Wintec saddle through DBS, we’ll add 20% off each EASY-CHANGE Gullet System and EASY-CHANGE Riser System when bought together.
*See the full details at www.batessaddles.com.
**See the full details at www.wintec-saddles.com.