There are some saddle parts that are not just for decoration. In the case of the billet strap, the function is purely to attach the cinch to the saddle. In fact, billet straps are present on western, English and even Australian saddles.
So what is a billet strap? A billet strap is a piece of leather or nylon located on either side of a saddle and used to hold the cinch in place. English saddles commonly have billet straps on both sides whereas a western saddle will have a single “off-billet” strap on the off side and a latigo strap on the near side.
Let’s take a look at billet straps on different types of saddles.
Billet Straps on English Saddles
English riding saddles typically have billet straps on both sides of the saddle. Located under the top leg flap, these billets are used to attach the cinch to the saddle.
Most English saddles will have at least three billet straps on each side. Any two of these straps are then used to attach the cinch to the saddle.
So why three straps if the cinch only has two holes? This allows you to choose the best two attachment points for the saddle based on your horse’s conformation and the wear on the billet leathers. For a well-balanced saddle, you can rotate between the billet straps to encourage even wear.
This is an excellent video I found that covers how to tack up a horse with an English saddle. I have bookmarked the location covering the cinch/billet straps specifically but feel free to rewind if you want to see the beginning.
Billet Straps on Dressage Saddles
The billet strap setup on a dressage saddle is similar to that on an English saddle. Some dressage saddles will also have a fourth billet strap, called a point billet, to help further stabilize the saddle on the horse.
There are two different types of billet styles most common to dressage saddles, the long and short billet. Let’s explore these.
Long Billet Dressage Saddles
The longer flap of the dressage saddle gives ample room for a saddle maker to use a longer billet. Using a longer billet will help to reduce bulk under your leg and thigh and can result in a closer connection to the horse.
This means that a horse saddled with a long billet dressage saddle will need a smaller size girth for a dressage saddle than for an English saddle. In addition, because the buckle portion of the cinch has been lowered, padding may be necessary to prevent bruising to the rider’s leg. (source)
Short Billet Dressage Saddles
Short billet dressage saddles are typically a more stable option. The longer cinch allows the saddle to be better balanced and more secure on the horse. In addition, using a short billet dressage saddle means that you will probably be able to use the same size cinch as your English saddle.
Billet Straps on Western Saddles
On a western saddle, the typical setup is for the saddle to have only a single billet on the off (right) side. Due to its location, this is called the off-billet.
The off-billet on a western saddle differs from the English saddle. It is a single strap with holes instead of multiple straps. Typically, the off-billet is made out of nylon or leather that wraps around the D-Ring. The cinch is attached by sliding it through the off bucket and buckling.
On the near (left) side, the latigo secures the other side of the cinch. This can be wrapped a few different was using just a wrap or using a combination of multiple wraps and the cinch buckle.
Some western saddles will have two D-Rings on the near side. This may confuse newer riders into thinking that two billet straps or two latigos are needed on this side. This is not the case. This excellent video from Tucker saddlery explains how to use this type of rigging for your horse.
Billet Straps on Australian Saddles
The billet straps on Australian saddles can be very different depending on the particular saddle. In general, Australian saddles are typically going to have one of the billet styles listed above for other types of saddles.
They can have several billet straps like an English or Dressage saddle or they are going to use a single off-billet similar to a western saddle. Sometimes, they use a hybrid type cinch system where the near side has one typically English style billet strap, and one strap that looks more similar to a western latigo for additional leverage. Here is a video of that type of rigging and how you would tighten it on the horse.
Replacing the Billet Straps on Your Saddle
Because pressure is constantly applied to your saddle’s billet straps, you will want to inspect them before each ride to ensure that they are in good condition.
The last thing you need during your ride is for your cinch to break. If you find that your billet straps are becoming worn, you can easily replace them on most saddles.
On a western saddle, it’s simple enough to order a new off-billet or pick one up from the local tack shop. I prefer nylon for my off billets because I feel they are stronger, but leather is also a good choice. I list my favorite options on my Replacement Western Saddle Parts page.
Replacing the billet straps on the other types of saddles could be easy or difficult depending on the saddle. Various English supply catalogs will carry them but it is best to have an experienced saddle maker look at your saddle to determine your best options before attempting to replace the billets at home yourself.
Using Billet Covers for Comfort
For both western and English saddles, you may find that the buckle of your cinch pinches your leg or causes discomfort. Saddle companies have created billet covers to help combat this issue.
For English saddles, this is called a billet protector, billet guard or billet cover. For western saddles, it is typically called a cinch protector.