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Dressage saddles come with either short or long billets. The billets, located under the leg flaps of the saddle, are the straps the girth attaches to. The differences in a saddle with short billets and one with long billets are subtle; neither length is necessarily considered better than the other.
The Basic Dressage Saddle
Dressage saddles are for use in the English riding discipline of dressage. Dressage saddles are English saddles with deep seats and long leg flaps. Dressage riders are encouraged to ride using their seats and legs. Secure and comfortable leg contact is considered essential in dressage, and long billet dressage saddles can give a rider slightly more comfort. Dressage saddles are the only types of English saddles that regularly feature long billets. All-purpose and jumping saddles use standard billets, also known as short billets.
It is fairly easy to tell a long-billet dressage saddle from a short-billet dressage saddle. The billets on a long-billet saddle are longer than the leg flap -- the billet straps will hang down below the flaps on either side of the saddle. A dressage saddle with short billets will not have visible billets; the billets are short enough that they are completely concealed under the flaps.
The primary benefit of riding in a dressage saddle with long billets is that the buckles that connect the girth and the saddle are not underneath your leg while you are riding. Having the buckles under the flaps can be uncomfortable for the rider and can negatively affect the rider's leg position and ability to cue smoothly. The long-billet saddle places the buckles below the flap and below the rider's leg, creating a smoother feeling between the leg and the saddle.
Riders who use dressage saddles with long billets have to use shorter girths than those who use saddles with short billets. If you purchase a long-billet dressage saddle, you will need to purchase a shorter girth to accommodate the new saddle. You may be able to make a long girth work on a long-billet saddle, but it will eliminate the benefits of the long billets, because a girth that is too long will wind up buckling underneath the flaps.
Some riders do not like the way a long-billet saddle looks from the ground, because the buckles on the girth are plainly visible to anyone who looks at the horse. This can be unattractive if the saddle, billets and girth do not match. The good news about dressage saddles is that the billets can be changed out by a saddle repair professional, meaning you can add long billets to any dressage saddle, or change your long billets to short billets if you desire to do so.
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