Billets are the straps beneath the saddle flaps that hang down from each side of the saddle tree. By attaching to these straps via its buckles, the girth anchors the saddle to the horse and keeps it from slipping. The billets are usually about 1” wide, with several regularly spaced holes that accommodate adjustments to the tightness of the fit.
These straps are rather short on most English saddles, disappearing under the saddle flap once they’ve been buckled onto the girth. Some English saddles designed for specific riding disciplines, such as the dressage saddle, instead have longer billets that hang below the flap, secured to shorter girths. The longer billets and shorter girths accommodate the elongated riding position used in certain activities, as they keep the buckles out of the way of the rider’s legs.
Safety in Numbers
Most English saddles have three billets on each side, so it may seem strange that the average English girth has only two buckles at each end. The third billet is a spare one, which gives riders a back-up strap in the event that another one breaks mid-ride.
It is usually better to use either the first and second billets or the first and third billets in favor of buckling onto only the second and third billets. The reason for this preferred configuration lies in the way that the straps fasten onto the saddle tree.
On most English saddles, the first billet boasts its own webbing as a means of attachment to the tree. The second and third billets generally share a single piece of webbing and point of attachment. Should this webbing rip or break with the girth buckled to both of the rearmost straps, you would likely lose the use of both billets. Should the rear webbing break with the girth buckled onto the first strap and one of the other two, you would still have one working billet.
Location Is Everything
There’s another reason for that third billet, as it offers riders more flexibility in the way they girth their horses. Sometimes a horse’s conformation makes one girthing position more practical or comfortable than another, so the presence of three billets gives riders more options. A particular riding activity or discipline may also demand that saddles rest farther forward or farther back than usual, and the extra strap facilitates different positions.
Some riders like to alternate the use of the billets, buckling girths onto the first and second straps for some time and then switching to the first and third ones. This practice can lengthen the life of the billets by spreading the wear and tear between the two rearmost straps instead of concentrating it onto only one.
If you are using new billets, remember that they will stretch, especially the first time you use them. You may need to readjust the straps periodically.
Make Sure Your Billets Pass Inspection
Within the chain of girthing paraphernalia, the billets represent the weakest link, so inspect them regularly. In addition to checking for signs of wear and tear such as broken stitches or stretched holes, ensure that the billets are supple enough to withstand pressure. Straps that are instead stiff are usually also brittle, and the normal inflation of the horse’s chest that accompanies certain activities (such as jumping) can cause them to break.
Safeguarding the billets against such mishaps is especially important with less expensive saddles, as the quality of the leather used for the straps is likely to be poor. Although oil may cause the billets to stretch, you can apply a light coat of conditioner to any straps that are dry and brittle.
The security of your saddle hangs in the balance of the girths and billets, so keep those straps in tip-top shape.
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