The Pro’s and Con’s of Adjustable Saddles

12th July 2023

Adjustable saddles really have shaken up the saddle fitting world over the past twenty years! By adjustable, I refer to the gullet bar system, whereby if your fitter has the relevant gullet bars, the width of the saddle can be adjusted quickly and easily on-site. Initially it was restricted to cheaper saddles such as synthetics, but now there are some top class competition saddles that have a gullet bar system.

The advantages are obvious:

-Saddle can be adjusted as a horse changes shape, either through seasonal weight gain or as the horse matures.
-A previous horse’s saddle can be fitted to a new horse.
-Saddle fitters only have to stock one saddle instead of up to 6, as theoretically the width can be changed from Narrow to Extra wide.

However, there are some caveats:
-Not every adjustable saddle can be made to fit every horse, mainly because the tree shape must correspond to the horses back shape, (hence the need for flat trees or curvier trees). Sometimes as the horse matures it gains muscle along the top line which can make a previously, well-fitting saddle impossible to refit, even with adjustments. With the gullet bar system, you are only changing the front of the tree, not the whole length of it. Also remember that the saddle should not be too long for your horse or pony – they haven’t developed a telescopic saddle yet!

Although most saddle manufacturers have managed to reduce the weight and bulk of using an adjustable tree, some riders will always find a conventional saddle more comfortable, so there is still a very strong market in well made ‘conventional’ saddles. With some brands we can send a saddle back to the manufacturer for a headplate change, should it be necessary.

It is possible to alter the width of a conventional wooden tree saddle using a machine to squeeze or stretch the tree. This can only be done once, by one width fitting, and only in one direction, (so you shouldn’t widen a saddle, and then make it narrower again) otherwise you risk damaging the tree and invalidating the warranty. For me this is a last resort. Beware of buying a second hand saddle as it is difficult to tell if it has been altered like this in the past!
Other saddles can be adjusted using a heat system – but please ask the manufacturer to recommend agent for this.
Antonia Wills stocks many adjustable and conventional saddles. When buying a new saddle, it is worth riding in several different makes, to make an informed choice for the comfort of yourself and your horse.

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