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Adjustable Saddles: A Complete Guide - Saddles Direct

Adjustable Saddles: A Complete Guide

We’re here to help you navigate the world of adjustable saddles

pkl  saand find the perfect fit for both you and your horse. As equestrians ourselves, we understand the importance of a well-fitted saddle to ensure comfort, safety, and optimal performance. With a horse's shape constantly evolving due to factors such as maturity, training, workload variations, injury recovery, and changes in riding discipline, it's crucial to find a saddle that can be adjusted to these changes.

While adjustable saddles offer remarkable flexibility, it's essential to understand that they are not universal. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the ins and outs of adjustable saddles, addressing common questions and misconceptions. Our goal is to provide you with the knowledge and guidance you need to make informed decisions about adjustable saddles, ensuring the perfect fit for your unique horse and riding needs. So let’s kick-on!

Are adjustable saddles good?

Adjustable tree saddles might be the best option for riders with young and developing horses, those who alter their horses' workload according to the season, or if you know your horse changes shape a lot. An adjustable saddle can be a wise investment, as it can eliminate the need to replace the saddle as your horse's shape evolves.

Many adjustable saddles available today utilise interchangeable steel gullet bars, which are sold separately or in complete sets. These saddles can be opened horizontally at the pommel area, providing access to the tree. Gullet bars, shaped like a "V," are screwed into place to establish the tree width and the angle of the points.

The gullet of a saddle, sometimes referred to as the channel, runs the length of the saddle between the panels and allows the horse's spinal processes to work. It’s important to remember that the interchangeable gullet bars do not affect the width of the rest of the gullet. A saddle fitter will always ensure the gullet of a saddle is neither too wide nor too narrow for their horse's unique conformation.

What does having an adjustable saddle mean?

Having an adjustable saddle is a fantastic innovation in saddlery, providing a tailored fit for both you and your horse. The key advantage of owning an adjustable saddle is its adaptability, allowing it to accommodate your horse's changing shape over time, ensuring comfort and stability during rides.

Three main types of adjustable saddles:

  1. Changeable Gullet Saddles: These saddles come with a changeable gullet bar system, enabling you to adjust the width of the saddle to fit your horse's withers perfectly. This flexibility allows you to make adjustments yourself, or with the assistance of a saddle fitter, to achieve just the right fit.

  2. Adjusta Tree Saddles: These saddles feature an adjustable tree, which can be fine-tuned to match your horse's back curvature and width. Generally, adjustments to the tree should be carried out by a brand-approved saddle fitter to ensure a proper fit and prevent any damage to the saddle.

  3. Changeable Headplate Saddles: These saddles have interchangeable headplates, making it possible for you to switch out the headplate to correspond with the width and shape of your horse's withers. Similar to adjusta tree saddles, these adjustments should typically be made by a brand-approved saddle fitter for the best outcome.

Regarding changeable gullet bars, there is a variety of types available, each designed to cater to a specific range of horse shapes and sizes. The most common gullet bar sizes include narrow, medium, medium-wide, wide, and extra-wide options, although some brands offer Wide Gullet Bars which run from XW-4XW. These different widths ensure that you can find the right gullet bar to provide an optimal fit for your horse's withers. 

Will an adjustable saddle fit any horse?

While adjustable saddles offer fantastic versatility and can accommodate a broad range of horses, they might not be the perfect solution for every situation. No saddle can claim to fit every horse perfectly, as each horse has its unique shape and characteristics; high withers, low withers, flat-backed, or low profile. A saddle fitter will take the time to closely examine and understand your horse's shape to help you select the right saddle.

Adjustable saddles do have a high success rate in achieving the right fit. In most cases, a simple adjustment to the saddle's width can provide the perfect solution to accommodate your horse's changing shape. But, it's essential to know that there are instances where an adjustable saddle might not be enough. For example, if your horse has developed a prominent wither that drastically alters its shape, you may need to invest in a new saddle specifically designed to cater to this change.

Remember to keep your horse's unique shape and needs in mind when choosing a saddle, and don't hesitate to seek advice from a qualified saddle fitter to ensure the perfect fit.

Which saddles are have an adjustable gullet bar?

Below is a list of all the brands we have available with adjustable gullet bars: 

  1. Bates Adjustable Saddles
    Bates saddles combine the EASY-CHANGE®Gullet System and the EASY-CHANGE® Riser System to offer a total fitting solution for your horse’s absolute comfort and your peace of mind. Every adjustment is measurable, symmetrical and completely reversible, meaning you can custom fit your saddle to your horse’s changing shape for optimal comfort and performance.
  2. Wintec Adjustable Saddles
    The Wintec 500 saddles are perfect if you love a beach ride as you can hose these down and wipe clean. Our saddle fitters love the Wintec saddles due to the variety of models they offer to cover the broad spectrum of horse shapes and sizes.
  3. Arena Adjustable Saddles
    The Arena saddles are perfect for the traditional rider who wants a “proper” leather saddle, yet also requires the adjustability of the HART technology and care ease of the synthetic saddle. The Arena saddles takes all this into account with their European leather seat, knee pads, sweat flaps and panel top whilst offering a low care synthetic panel underneath.
  4. Thorowgood Adjustable Saddles
    The T4 & T8 Cob models are the best all-round saddle for the rounder build of a Cob-type horse. The Thorowgood saddles have been known for years for their affordable price tag however with recent technology upgrades the Thorowgood saddles are super easy to fit with a range of saddle model options which make these a saddle fitters dream and why we love them at Saddles Direct. 
  5. John Whitaker Adjustable Saddles
    We love the John Whitaker saddle range at saddles direct. One of our favourites is the Hebden VSD and Everyday WH saddles, the saddle market is very sparse with adjustable show and working hunter type saddles and having these at such a great price means our riders love them too.
  6. Kent and Masters Adjustable Saddles
    Kent and Masters have such a fantastic range on offer. If you’re looking for a very specific discipline with performance technology and a real leather saddle, these could be the perfect choice. We have to mention the S-Series Dressage saddles with moveable under-flap thigh blocks, which can be repositioned as required to support your riding. They also have a dedicated range scaled to take children through their pony riding years.
  7. Fairfax Adjustable Saddles
    The Fairfax classic range is perfect for a rider who likes technology derived from science to help a saddle fit while also keeping a traditional looking saddle. The Fairfax classic saddle range includes dressage, Jump, Monoflap XC, GP and GPD models so definitely a brand to look at for discipline specific saddles.
  8. PDS Adjustable Saddles
    For the Dressage riders, PDS Saddles are a revolutionary saddle range designed to maximise horse and rider performance and have been developed in conjunction with Carl Hester. 
  9. Ideal Adjustable Saddles
    Ideal Saddlery is our go-to when we have a tricky horse to fit as they have a range of saddles to suit specific target horses with tricky saddle fitting issues.

Saddles with Adjustable Trees

Albion saddles with the ADJUSTA or GENESIS tree can be adjusted, but this needs to be carried out by Albion themselves at a cost. These saddle trees offer a way to adjust an infamous traditional english brand, however adjusting the head plate won't always guarantee the perfect fit and you may still require further adjustments.

Similarly the Prestige and some John Whitaker saddles can be adjusted on an infrared heat bench by a reputable saddle fitter with the right equipment. At Saddles Direct, we have one of the benches at our Crowwood facility and are fully equipped to adjust these brands. We charge £60 and require templates from a Qualified fitter/saddler to adjust, and we must stipulate that widening or narrowing the tree will not guarantee the fit.

Kieffer and Saddle Company saddles are also adjustable on a cold standard bench and is a straight-forward method, but again, opening/closing the head won't always lead to a perfect solution!

If you are unsure, speak to our helpful team who will do their best to help you identify what type of saddle you have and if it can be adjusted.

Can a traditional saddle be adjusted?

Most saddles can be adjusted to a certain extent. But you need a qualified saddle fitter to identify if your horse's saddle isn’t quite right, and then take the necessary steps to rectify it. Depending on the saddle style and composition, adjustments can be made if the saddle requires flocking or other alterations. Proper flocking in your saddle ensures comfort for your horse. It evenly distributes the weight of both the saddle and rider, preventing painful pressure points.

As a general rule of thumb, it's recommended to have your saddle fitter take a look at your saddle every six months. Flocking is wool stuffing, so with time, the fluffy insides start to compress, become hard and need to be fluffed up again. Make a habit of regularly inspecting the underside of your horse's saddle for dents, divots, uneven or shifting padding.

What about using padding or shims?

Adding padding, numnahs, or shims will not remedy an ill-fitting saddle. Especially if it is already too tight, adding more cushioning won’t help. It may actually make the saddle more unbalanced and alter your riding position.

We want the saddle to fit the horse without the need for additional padding or shims. However, shims and pads can be helpful, to add comfort and your saddle fitter can advise in finding the best pad and saddle combination.

Saddles with foam panels are the most compatible with external riser systems such as ProLite pads. These pads can be used or removed as necessary to alter the depth at the front or rear to support the balance of the saddle. But remember, these should be used under the advice and recommendation of your saddle fitter.

Which adjustable saddle is best for my riding?

Ultimately, the best saddle for your riding is the one that fits the best and helps you feel secure and balanced in the saddle. 

For hacking out and pleasure riding, the adjustable GP saddles we recommend trialing are the Arena, Kent and Masters or Thorowgood saddles. 

Looking for something low maintenance? Definitely look at the Wintecs, because they’re synthetic you can just wipe them clean and they're perfect if you love a beach ride. 

If you want something discipline specific, then there are plenty of adjustable saddles to choose from. Bates and Fairfax are two very popular top of the range adjustable saddle brands with changeable gullet bars. 

We hope this Adjustable Saddle Guide has provided you with valuable insights and knowledge, empowering you to make informed decisions when it comes to finding the perfect saddle for you and your horse. We understand that the world of adjustable saddles can feel overwhelming, but remember the pressure isn’t all on you to get it right.

At Saddles Direct, we are always here to offer free advice and guidance, ensuring that you find the right adjustable saddle for your unique needs. Our friendly and knowledgeable team is just a phone call or email away, ready to assist you in any way we can.

If you're still in doubt or unsure about which saddle is best suited for you and your horse, don't hesitate to book a fitting with an independent saddle fitter or one of our expert SD fitters. They will bring a range of saddles for you to trial, helping you find the perfect match that provides both comfort and support for you and your horse.

You're not alone on this journey, we're here to help you every step of the way, ensuring that your riding experience is as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible. So, reach out, ask questions, and let us guide you towards finding the perfect adjustable saddle for you and your horse.

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