By Victoria Hamilton
There is a fair amount of division in the equestrian community regarding whether fixed (pressable) gullets or changeable gullets are the better option. As with most things saddles, a lot of it comes down to the needs and preferences of horse and rider. But there are some advantages and disadvantages to each of the options, and some common misconceptions.
A changeable gullet is a metal plate in the head of the tree that can be removed and replaced with a different size. Changeable gullet saddles usually have flexible trees to allow for this change. The amount of flexibility depends on the material being used and whether any other metal is used to strengthen it to create some rigidity or stability. The gullets are usually unique for the particular saddle brand or type of saddle, although some are interchangeable between brands. Some of the gullets are positioned vertically when put in the saddles, others may be angled and some are actually designed to flare out to help with shoulder freedom. The position, shape and angle of the gullet is important as it relates to the tree points which in turn affects the positioning of the girth points. Girth points cannot be positioned more forward than the tree points of the saddle and girth position is so important for saddle stability.
Fixed/ Pressable Gullets
The term “Fixed Gullet” alone is a bit of a misconception. I prefer to refer to them as pressable gullets, since they can be adjusted, just not at the same range and frequency as changeable gullets. Pressable saddles can be made from different materials, with some using a metal gullet that is rivetted on and able to be pressed on-site to alter its size while still in the saddle. Others may be made of material that can be adjusted when heated, which means your saddle may need to be taken off-site. Wood trees with metal gullets should only be changed one size narrower or wider up to four times in their life. If it is done more often the metal may weaken and crack. These saddles still allow for excellent adjustability if the head of the tree is wide enough and if they have a good depth in the panels for flocking.
There is probably a greater range of trees and gullets in the non-changeable saddle group as in this group there are also saddles with very short tree points. These can be great for horses with very fleshy shoulders and not a lot of wither. It is difficult to achieve short tree points in saddles with changeable gullets due to the design and access points for the changeable system.
While changeable gullet systems can be fantastic for some horses, pressable gullets are better for others. The best option really comes down to the individual saddle and its suitability for the horse and rider combination. If you need some advice, we are always happy to help.
Dr Victoria Hamilton is an icon in the Western Australian Equestrian Community, with a wealth of experience as a veterinarian, coach, breeder and international dressage competitor. As one of Australia’s top dressage riders, her love of horses is contagious and apparent in everything she does.