Unfortunately Saddle Gussets appear to be more of a fashion accessory than a requirement to fit your saddle correctly.
In the past 40 years the gusseted panel appears to replace the ‘old style’ saddle gusset. The justification for this was to allow a greater weight bearing surface for the horse comfort. This does have some relevance if your rider is nearing the weight carrying capacity of the horse.
Unfortunately the panel – especially the deep saddle gusset – has led to EXTRA pressure points on the horse in particular the front and back of the saddle if the horse has a curvier back compared to the panel shape. It also can cause the saddle to ‘nose-dive’ into the shoulder if the panel extends beyond the 18th rib.
So should we go back to the ‘old style’?
Not necessarily – there is a time and a place for deep and shallow saddle gussets and those in between.
Here is where I earn my $$$. Amongst other things I get to decide what size gusset would suit your horse. This is relatively simple when the horse is standing stationery but we need the saddle to fit when the horse is actually moving. Horses will lift through the back to varying degrees depending on training, breeding and muscle development.
For example – A horse standing stationery, cold out of the paddock or stable will have belly hang or back drop. When he or she starts working the stomach muscles start working (sound familiar?) I have a warmblood that “fits” a curvy panel until warmed up then he lifts and is definitely a flat backer. My instructor was teasing me about ‘back saddle flap’ and my expertise as a saddle fitter until I said “keep watching”. Sure enough, once he was working through correctly and easily the back saddle flapping had stopped.
This is partly why I like people to have a decent ride prior to purchasing a saddle. Also, I believe partly, why we see so many saddles that have only been used a handful of times.
Going back to the photos above and the 18th rib… See the difference in panel length on both saddles? Which one would you want on a short backed horse?