Please note that this post is not intended to bash, slander, bad-mouth, short-sell or otherwise denegrate saddles with adjustable trees or changeable gullets. When used as intended, they can fill spots that other saddles don't, and - in some cases - offer far better quality than fixed-tree saddles costing about the same. Lately, however, I've been running into quite a few folks who have some rather serious misperceptions about these saddles, and I'd like to make an effort to correct them.
"I ride a lot of different horses, so I'm going to get an adjustable-tree saddle so I can fit all of them."
"My trainer wants me to get my own saddle, so I'm going to get a(n) _________ (fill in the blank from above) so I can fit the different school horses I'm riding."
As I said in the preface, I've been hearing a LOT of comments like these lately - and given the ads you see for the changeable gullet / adjustable tree saddles, it's not surprising that people can come to believe that these saddles will be the answer to any and all fitting issues
- From the Wintec/Bates web site: "... achieve an optimal fit," "... the ultimate in ease of fitting," "...unsurpassed flexibility in achieving an optimal fit."
- From the Laser web site: "... completely user friendly and allows the rider to adjust the saddle to fit almost any type of horse."
- From the Kieffer web site: "Now the RIDER can alter the tree width by using the provided tool in order to adapt the tree width exactly to the back of the horse!"
- From the Thorowgood web site: "... comes with the award-winning Fish™ adjustable fit system which allows you to tailor the fit of the saddle to your horse’s individual requirements."
The two most popular misconceptions about these saddles are: a) these saddles can be made to fit any horse that comes down the pike, and b) they're the ultimate answer if you have two very dissimilar horses that you're trying to fit with one saddle. I'll tackle these in order.
First, these saddles will not fit every horse out there. The adjustable tree / changeable gullet (known hereafter as AT/CG) addresses only the width at the front of the saddle - it does not change tree shape, channel width or panel configuration. (Yes, the older Wintecs did sort of go all banana-shaped when you put in the extra-wide gullet, but they seem to have addressed that issue in the newer saddles.) To illustrate, here's the front of the Wintec Isabell with the medium gullet installed:
And here's the same saddle with the extra-wide gullet installed: