Friday, September 2, 2011

Changeable Gullets - The Details

I know, I know, we've covered this subject before.  However, according to my blog stats (which I check from time to time), the posts that consistently get the most traffic are the ones about adjustable trees / changeable gullets.  Given that I've just had something of a revelation regarding certain gullet plates, I'm going to share this little nugget of info, since I think it has a lot to do with some fitting issues I've run into, and shows even more clearly why these saddles aren't the perfect answer for every horse out there. 

First, let me say that there are changeable gullets, and there are changeable gullets.  (There are also changeable heads - note the Albion Genesis models - but that's a different kettle of fish, and not one that I know much about yet.)  So ... there are quite a few saddles that offer the changeable gullet system - Anky, Pessoa, Collegiate, Wintec, Thorowgood - but the ones I'm most familiar with are the Wintecs and Thorowgoods, so I'll confine myself mostly to those two, though I will say that I think the Ankys and Pessoas have one of the easier systems to work.

First, let's take a look at the basic gullets.  Here's a Wintec standard extra-wide plate:


And here's one of the Wintec Wide plates (it has three:  wide, wider and widest; this is the wider):


Now, here's the Thorowgood xw:



 And the Thorowgood xxw:




Thorowgood offers two different types of plates:  The S bar (bottom, for square cantled saddles) and the R bar (top, for round cantled saddles).  The R bar, which has longer points, is better suited for a horse with a good wither and is used in their standard and high-wither models (and the standard Showjumper saddle); the S bar, with shorter points, is better for a lower-to-no wither, broader horse.



Now, here's the Wintec medium plate sitting on top of the Thorowgood medium plate.


And here's the Wintec medium plate compared to the head of a Black Country tree:


Have you noticed anything about the Wintec plates?  There's something unique about them, something not found in the head plate of fixed tree saddles or on the gullet plate of any of the changeable gullet saddles.  Here are some hints, in case you haven't found it yet.

Here's the Thorowgood medium gullet plate:

Here's the Black Country tree:


And here's the Wintec medium plate:


And the Wintec Wide "wider" plate:



Before I divulge the unique feature (which you've probably already recognized), let me say that the issue that I'd  run into rather frequently when fitting the Wintecs was that even when the angle of the tree point (the lower part of the plate) agreed with the horse's back, the fit just wasn't right.  At first, I'd put it down to the CAIR panels, which need to have the rider up to really evaluate fit ... but getting the rider up wouldn't improve the issue.  Switching out the plates didn't make the fit better, nor did flocking or shimming.  For the life of me, I could not figure out what the problem was ... until I received an e-mail from a fellow fitter that mentioned "that damned kink" in the Wintec plates.  

I'd handled those plates for years, but never really looked at them.  So I grabbed a plate, put it on my bench, and spent a few moments studying it;  Yes, there was definitely an inward kink about halfway down the leg of the Wintec plate ... and the lower part of the plate flared out ... This creates two different angles in the gullet plate - one above the kink, and one below it:



And when you compare these angles, they're quite different:




Now, when the gullet is installed in the saddle, the kink corresponds roughly with the top edge of the panels, so technically the lower part - which would be the tree point on a fixed-tree saddle - is one angle, and that angle should be parallel to your horse's back.  However, in my experience, this design creates the potential for a great deal of pressure right at the top of the panel.  On some horses, this doesn't seem to create issues, but on some - especially those for whom the panel placement isn't quite perfect - it does create a substantial spot of pressure ... and there's nothing that can be done to correct it.  And when I see the "straight leg" on other changeable gullet plates, and on the head plates of the fixed-tree saddles, I look at that inward kink and wonder "Why?"



56 comments:

Steph said...

THANK YOU for posting this - and yes, shouting intentional. I have yet to find a Wintec that doesn't have a pressure point at the top of the panel, right where that inward kink is.

AmityBee said...

At first let me say that I really like your blog and that I find it really enlightening. I thank you for that.

I ran it that problem before on a very diffenent kind of saddle, my old jumping saddle (Moll/Waldhausen I *think* that actually is some kind of Stuebben off brand).

I had asked the fitter If it would be possible to fit that saddle to my new horse. He showed me that, even If he could change the gullet, which he could not, it still couldn't fit because it's gullet had that same curve to it and would always have pressure points.

I always assumed there where different kinds of gullets out there with or without that kink or curve.

Nikki said...

Kitt, very intersting observation, I wonder what their reasoning is behind this as no it doesnt make any general sense. Perhaps somewhat on the narrower atrophied profiles but on the more barrel hoop ones surely it is working against it? What I was more pleased to read is your reference to angles "hooray" there are industry angles for width measurements and the sooner it becomes common practice the better for everyone, no more 30cm etc measurements (any knowledgeable manufacturer now offers more than one tree option and therefore point lengths will differ) and D to D-ring measurements - dont even get me started there!!

Sydney said...

Interesting.
I have you contacted Wintec about this?

Now That's A Trot! said...

Yes! I suffered with a Wintec for too long, and I had problems with the fit being off just so. It worked okay for horses that I was riding on an infrequent and short-term basis, but I tossed it on a variety of horses and nothing ever sat quite right, even when it "should" have.

Thank you for giving a fitter's perspective on this. Those photos definitely help drive the point home!

Barefoot Basics said...

I have never understood the kink in the plate and never found a horse I would say had a saddle that was 100%. I thought it was me because I hate them with a passion yet they are really popular over here in the UK .......

Crayonsmom said...

I've always had a problem fitting the Wintec gullets to my horse, and could never figure out why until now! That seems like a design flaw to me, but maybe it was intentional for some reason? Now I'm wondering... I have a Bates Caprilli saddle. Do you think there is a way to straighten out the "kink" in the plates and still be safe to use in the saddle? Or would I be better off not even attempting that?

Jenny said...

I know people who have corrected the problem with a hammer or something to get them straight.

saddlefitter said...

I don't recommend trying to modify the head plates, simply because I wonder if doing so will affect the integrity of the plate. I know people who've played around with them, making them extra-wide and so on, but since the saddle isn't designed to accommodate retrofitted plates, the success rate was pretty dismal. I have spoken to the sales reps with my concerns about this and other design elements, as have other fitters I know.

Diana Johns said...

Was the comparison Black Country tree a hoop tree, or the regular one?

saddlefitter said...

Diana, that's a standard Black Country tree, not a hoop tree.

Zion-St. John Lutheran School said...

Wow! Thanks for that information!

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to use a different brand gullet plate on a wintec? Are they at all compatible?

saddlefitter said...

Anon, most of the changeable gullet plates are slightly different and not interchangeable. The only instance of this that I know of is within the Wintecs; the wide and XW standard plates can be used in the Wide models - or could last I knew.

Anonymous said...

I purchased a Wintec as it was the best saddle i could afford with "new technology". Since then my horse has had back problems, despite numerous saddle fittings. This fits exactly what I have been trying to say about the saddle putting presure on the wither.

Emma said...

I have a bates cair all purpose and despite numerous saddle fittings the saddle puts pressure behind the wither and white hairs have grown through in winter coat. I am considering the wintec wide for my quater horse who is wide and low withered, but maybe it will not fit as well!!

saddlefitter said...

Emma, I'm finding more and more that the Wintec/Bates saddles are often not the best choice for the really wide horses. Thorowgood/Kent & Masters offer more fitting options and don't have that inward kink in their plates. However, I'd really like a saddle that offers a hoop-shaped plate; I've brought up the idea, and so far (while K&M developers agree that it's a good idea) the design changes necessary in the trees have been the sticking point. Well, here's hoping!

Anonymous said...

Great post Kitt ! I've been hoping forever for someoen to come up with hoop style gullet plates. C'mon Kent & Masters....

Jael said...

wish I had read this post before purchasing a Wintec Wide Dressage saddle for my coblet last week. It all makes sense now. I have a K&M Cob GP with the new yellow XXW plate - loads of room, but the wide plate in the Wintec and the panel design are nowhere near as roomy when comparing both saddles side by side. Got a feeling said Wintec will be going on Ebay....

Anonymous said...

It's so obvious now, why didn't I see this before? I have a very round Haflinger and my xwide Wintec fit according to their measure,but we still keep having a pressure point right at that "damn kink!" I guess I just thought it was me and my horse and didn't question that gullet.

Anonymous said...

My TB cross originally did well in Wintec. Once he developed more muscle, he began slightly short striding and hollowing his back. Changing gullets would only temporarily improve him. The saddle fit according to traditonal standards but... Rode him in Skito bareack pad for a while and problems went away. Sold my 2 Wintecs. Perhaps this kink in the plates was part of the problem. I have to say, I don't like how narrow the plates are at the top and believe they should open the angle more.

Nina Smart said...

I have a question about the changeable gullet plates in the new TEKNA synthetic "quick change" saddles. They feature a half turn nut, as opposed to a screw, to secure the plate. But in order for the hole in the gullet plate to accommodate the two hooks on the nut, the hole is oval not round. My question is, would 3-4mm extra room be enough possible movement to change to stability of the saddle tree?

saddlefitter said...

Nina, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the Tekna saddles, so I can't say for sure. However, given your description, I'd think that if the nut were sufficiently tight, there shouldn't be any play in the head plate.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed this to on my dressage pro - but it was the only saddle I found had proper "balance" for my somewhat down hill QH (I can't use flocked panels of any kind. But fortunately even when in dressage training ridden frequently it never caused her a problem... But I don't see why w GOOD blacksmith/iron worker couldn't duplicate the anatomy as taken by a flexible wire wither-shaper-measurer thing if it is.

Anonymous said...

Would another gullet make (example shires)fit wintec saddles?
Are they then straight?
I have a wintec on my TB, its used to be very good on him (had it fitted by a saddler) but nowadays it slides back alot. Do i need a wider or narrower gullet fitted?

saddlefitter said...

Anonymous, without seeing the saddle on your horse, I'm afraid I can't tell if changing the gullet would help fix the issue or not. It could be that the saddle needs some extra lift in the rear (flocking or shims); if you'd like to send photos, I'd be happy to take a look.

As far as replicating gullet plates, I suppose it could be done. I don't know of any that are interchangeable, though. I'll also add that using non-specific plates in your saddle can be problematic in other ways; if doing so damages the tree, your warranty would probably be void.

Anonymous said...

hi

thanks for your reply.
where can i send pictures or how do i upload them?

saddlefitter said...

Anonymous, you can send photos to me at saddlefitter@hotmail.com. If the photos files are large, please send them one or 2 at a time. Looking forward to seeing them!

Anonymous said...

great blog, we are shopping for a saddle for my daughter's OTTB, we have been looking at changeable girths as we feel it might get us a better fit. He has withers like the the Swiss Alps. (And he is at a good weight,it is just how he is built) I really like the Thoerowgood T4 high wither.It has the "R" gullets.My daudghter knows someone selling a barely used Bates Caprelli for half price of new. Do you know if the Bates gullets are curved?.I have read a lot that points to the Thorowgood as the saddle that would probably best fit this horse.i also pointed out to my daughter that price is not the only indication of quality.The other saddle we have looked at is a close contact HDR with an interchangeable gullet system.are you familiar with them? thanks for sharing your expertise,our saddle budget is $1000.00 tops, and we are somewhat isolated so selection is limited unless we mail order.

saddlefitter said...

The Bates gullets are the same as those used in the Wintecs, so they have the same kink. The trees on the Caprillis (and most Wintec/Bates saddles) are quite flat, so they're often not a good choice for the bigger withers, since the panel configuration isn't set up to compensate for a flat tree on that conformation. Given your budget, I'd strongly recommend going with the Thorowgood T4 (or T8, which has leather on the seat and pads and is priced about $895.00). The conformation-specific fitting features, including the longer legs on the R bar, are very well-suited to the big withers. Annette Gavin at www.hastilowusa.com carries them, and can help you out with fitting as well.

Shawna said...

I just brought myself a used Wintec with the changeable gullet system, as I was having a real hard time finding a saddle that would fit both myself and the horse(s) I ride. Did I waste my money ($185) on a saddle with a system thats only going to damage the horse(s) back? Its my first saddle, so I was pretty excited about it till now.

Also I think the curve in the gullet is in there to try and make a better fit. As the area where that part sits on a horse is not straight but as a slight curve to it or maybe its just me thats seeing it (Wouldn't surprise me).

I think the only way you are going to get a saddle that fits your horse to a "T" is if you get costume and even then you are running the risk of not getting a true fit.

saddlefitter said...

Shawna, I've known horses that were ridden in Wintecs with no negative results, and if it works for your horse(s), then it's great. Remember that tree shape and panel configuration come into play as much as tree width; if the latter 2 components of the saddle aren't suitable for your horse, you can change gullet plates all day and it won't correct the fit. But the kink in the gullet plate can be problematic; it sits at the top of the panel, and can create excess pressure. Additionally, please remember that these saddles weren't designed to have the plates changed frequently, and frequent changes can lead to issues with structural integrity like stripped screw holes or broken tree points.

It could be that your horse(s) will be fine in the Wintec. If you want to email some photos to me, I'd be happy to take a look and offer what input I can.

Shawna said...

Would be very nice of you. I haven't yet tried it on the horse(s) as I haven't been to the barn yet. I heard that Wintec's have a wide flat tree and the horse(s) I ride tend to be wide and flat (Gotta love the Apps)and the saddle I was using was to narrow in the tree with a high withers cleance and as a result the horse(s) wouldn't move for me.

I checked the gullet bar after reading this and I didn't notice a kink in the bar, it is a brand new used saddle, so maybe they fixed the kink or I'm just not seeing it.

What's your email? I know that not all saddles are going to fit all horses.

saddlefitter said...

The email is pantherrunsaddlery@yahoo.com, Shawna. Looking forward to seeing the photos!

Rosie said...

Somehow, I feel more like this article is saying that Wintec saddles are bad for horses and shouldn't be used, not that there is a "kink" or whatever.

I own three Wintecs. They are easily said the best saddles I've ever owned.

I'm sorry, but if the gullet you have doesnt fit your horse, it isn't the saddle's fault. I've found that the Wintec gullets are great because they are better conformed to the horse's withers.

I'm not convinced.

saddlefitter said...

I'm sorry you feel that way, Rosie. I was presenting the info I've found over the years I've been fitting Wintecs. On some horses (as I stated in the final paragraph) the "kink" doesn't create issues - but on others it does. If the Wintecs work well for your horses, then that's the saddle you should be using, whatever I or others may find.

I'm also a little mystified by your statement that "I'm sorry, but if the gullet you have doesnt fit your horse, it isn't the saddle's fault." Since the gullet is an integral part of the saddle (even if it's a changeable gullet), I don't understand how you can separate the two. Can you explain further?

Steph said...

A very delayed comment to Shawna - it just can't give a better fit. I think it is to give more wither clearance on a given tree width, which means the seat can be deeper.

Also, I think your saddle should be the shape you want your horse to be wherever possible. No-one wants their horse to have concave muscle either side of the wither, it shows a lack of muscle - you're looking to improve the musculature with good saddle fitting and that means heading towards it being flat in profile or even convex.

In further response to Rosie, no other saddle brand has looked at this and thought "what a great idea". And while some horses do fine or even great in them, unlike any other saddle type they nearly always cause the same problem when they don't quite fit (tighness under and in front of the bars, related to the headplate shape). If you run your hand under the panel, feeling what the horse feels, there is no getting away from that increased pressure at the top of the panel unless you go way too narrow. I don't see how this is optimal for any horse. If you have one that works for you, great, but I'd never recommend going straight for one if buying a new (to you) saddle because of these issues. The quality is great, the adjustability is great, but the fit on the horse IS the saddle's fault.

Cavallo Docile said...

Hi, Very interesting article!! And I enjoyed reading all the comments, very helpful. Does anyone have any experience with the GFS Genesis all purpose saddle? I've always been cautious about synthetic saddles with changeable gullets. And, does anyone know what the twist is like in the Thorowgood (high wither model) and in the GFS Genesis? I can't ride in saddles that have a wide or medium twist. Ive heard the Wintecs are wide. Any advice?? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have a flat backed 'barrel' haflinger and was wondering how a thorowgood t8 cob would fit?

saddlefitter said...

Anon, without seeing your horse - or at least a template and photos - I can't say for sure if the Thorowgood Cob model would work well or not. They do fit some of the wide-bodies really well, but the shape of the gullet plate is more standard than hoop. If your horse is a real hoop-tree candidate, you might be better off going with something like a Duett. Their saddles are a bit more expensive than the Thorowgood but less expensive than the UK-made saddles: they offer the hoop tree and very good quality and fit for the money.

Jean said...

Great conversation. I love Wintecs. They have been great on all of our horses from Arabs, TB, Morgans, and now Friesian and Shire Cross. I think one point that is missing here is no saddle will fit a horse if the horse is not ridden straight. We have had countless clients that have had issues and spend thousands of dollars on saddles, pads etc but refuse to take lessons to learn how to straighten their crooked horses! Any saddle will cause an issue eventually especially on hills and at good paces. Often riders can go for long periods with no issues and suddenly the back is sore when they start riding regularly. It is the most difficult thing to address when the rider's skill is the problem. Having said that the points above are well stated and should be considered when addressing saddle fit. I just think too much is made on some aspects and not enough on how the rider rides.

saddlefitter said...

Excellent points, Jean. The way a horse is ridden and their level of fitness/symmetry plays a huge role in saddle fit, as does the fitness and level of skill of the rider. It's a bit of a Catch-22: the horse and rider can't perform well without a saddle that suits them both, but fitting needs for both will change with their level of training and fitness. Definite reason to work with a fitter who's focused on making things work for both parties.

Shawna said...

Hello Saddlefitter,

Sorry for never getting photos to you. Since I got the saddle, I have had plenty of time in using it and I love it. The horses seems to really enjoy it too. My instructor loves how its helped my position and I love how I got a very stubborn horse to trot and even counter with it on him (Which I never would have been able to do in my old saddle).

I find the saddle is gear towards flatter backed horses with lower withers, which the horses I ride tend to be.

I think the advice that they are trying to give is that no matter the saddle in regards to the make or model, you need to find what works best for you and the horse(s) you ride. And that you need to be aware of all parts of the saddle, including the plates in the changeable gullets. This one just happens to work for me, it may not work for someone else. Just like a thorowgood might work for someone else and may not work for me.

My only issue with the saddle is there are no wintec dealers in the area I live, which makes it hard to find any parts if I need to.

Carrie77 said...

Brilliant blog and very informative.
I am moving from a Barefoot Lexington for my 5 year old barrel shaped irish cob. He has been out of work for sometime and so with work and growth he is likely to change shape. So considering the Bates Wide, Thorowgood T8 cob, or the Kent and Masters Cob. I looked at the Duett but no interchangeable gullet system.
I am currently borrowing a wintec and he is in the medium wide gullet but I'm not a wintec fan.
I live in France so will be buying blind really, with no option to try before buying.
He is short coupled wearing a 5'9" rug and approx. 14.1hh. I'm looking at a 17" saddle, as I'm 5'6" tall and size 12.
I want a deep secure (comfortable) seat as possible and not a tipping forward position, with stirrups far back. Your recommendations suggestions would be much appreciated as I am very confused!
Thanks

saddlefitter said...

Carrie, I'd be happy to make some recommendations if you want to send a template and a good conformation shot of your horse. A schedule of my fees is available at http://pantherrunsaddlery.com/?page_id=69. Any other questions, please let me know!

saddlefitter said...

Shawna, I'm glad you found something that works well for you and your horse. If you're having a tough time finding plates, screws, etc., I know that Smartpak and Dover Saddlery both carry Wintec/Bates, and should be able to help you get whatever you need.

Caroline Davey said...

Thanks for your offer. I have one question please, on a borrowed wintec my small irish cob fits best with the 3 xw mid purple gullet, the second from widest that Wintec do.
On looking at the K&M cob GP saddle & with their gullets, the widest is the xxW silver bar which seems to be one size narrower to the Wintec.
Does the profile/panel confirmation of the K&M saddle mean that comparing the 2 gullets is not applicable? IE am I trying to compare apples and pears?
Most reviews seem to suggest that the Thorowgood widest gullet is very wide and that their saddles should fit most flat backed cobs?
If the saddle fit itself is not altering the fit of the gullet, then this presumably limits me to the Bates/Wintec ranges?
Many thanks.

saddlefitter said...

IME, the Thorowgood Cob plates are very close to the Wintec Wide plates, and the overall design of the Thorowgood saddles offers better fit for many of the broad-backed horses. The plates aren't truly hoop-shaped, but I've found that they tend to fit better on horses that need a hoop tree than most other changeable-gullet saddles.

Anonymous said...

I have a question regarding your comment on standard and hoop tree. I am in the process of finding a saddle for my wide backed mustang and Trumbull mountain a stockist for Thorowgood claimed the broad back T8 is a hoop tree? How would I verify this for certain?

saddlefitter said...

Anon, last I knew (about a year ago), the Thorowgood gullets were not hoop-shaped. A hoop tree is broader across the top of the gullet (think an inverted "U" rather than in inverted "V"). and while the Thorowgood gullets do fit many of the broad horses well, they didn't offer the additional breadth across the top of the plate to truly qualify as what I consider a "hoop" shape. My info may old, so I suggest you contact Thorowgood directly, or another of their dealers, such as Annette Gavin at www.hastilowusa.com for more recent intel. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I did contact Thorowgood and you are correct...they are not hoop trees. However a little concerned that this is what Trumbull Mountain is saying it has. Well, I guess we'll see if it fits my wide backed horse when it gets here since I already ordered it on the notion it was a hoop tree.

saddlefitter said...

Glad my info is still current, and not sure why you'd be told otherwise. As you can see from the photos, Thorowgood's Cob/Broadback "S" bar plates aren't particularly broad across the top; they're still more of an inverted "V" than an inverted "U". I have chatted w/Thorowgood and requested that they pursue producing a hoop-shaped plate, since it would be a huge boon to the saddle fitting world. Apparently, it would require a total redesign of the tree, so not sure if it will go forward or not. As of now, the only saddle that I know of with a changeable hoop-shaped plate is the WOW, and they're considerably more expensive than the Thorowgoods.

Jane said...

Great post, thank you. I have a couple of saddle fitting cases that spring to mind, which are definitely attributable to this design quirk. I see it as an issue for horses that DON'T have traps muscle wastage .One in particular was fitted with a Bates saddle that ostensibly fitted well - however, when the horse was asked to elevate through the thoracics, the kink made itself felt. Crazy!

May I just mention my own post on the (mis)marketing of adjustable gullet saddles? It can be found on my blog - I won't be so rude as to post the URL, but it's in my address if anyone's interested :-)

saddlefitter said...

Great post, Jane! The URL is http://thehorsesback.com/adjustable-saddles/.

Melkl said...

I have heard that the other problem with changeable gullets in general, is that though you're changing the gullet the rest of the saddle stays the same so the whole fit doesn't change, just the gullet plate. Is this true?

saddlefitter said...

Melkl, that's true. All you're changing is the width at the front. The old Wintecs used to go sort of banana-shaped when the xw plate was put it, but that was a flaw that's been addressed. If the other aspects of saddle fit aren't correct - tree shape/type, panel config. and billet system - you can change the plate all day and the saddle still won't fit.