Building topline in horses - an 8 week plan (2022)

Your horse’s spine is designed like a bridge. The vertebrae are strung together and supported by muscles, similar to the design of a suspension bridge. When the additional weight of a rider is added, the spine is supported by the back muscles and the abdominal muscles. If these are weak, the danger increases of the vertebrae sagging and leading to further problems. When we speak of building topline in horses, we are speaking of developing all of these muscles.

Topline in horses actually consists of all the muscles along the neck, Building topline in horses - an 8 week plan (1)withers, back, loin and hindquarters of the horse (gluteal, dorsal and cervical extensor muscles). The topline should be rounded and strong, not sunken in in any way.

When your horse moves, he should appear relaxed and be able to coil his loin muscles, raise the base of his neck and move freely and powerfully forward. Strengthening the topline will make this easier for him and healthier for the spine.

What does a weak back look like?

A horse with a weak back will probably not ‘track up’ as much as he should. The hind foot should step, at the very least, into the footprint left by the front foot.

Seen from behind, a weak backed horse will often walk with its left and right hooves too close together, as if walking on a tightrope.

He might also tend to ‘pace’, where the two left legs move forward together, followed by the two right legs. A good walk has a rhythmic 1-2-3-4 beat.

He will also, because of all the above, lack impulsion and straightness.

Visually, you might notice some or all of the following to varying extents:

  • the neck is concave and hollow
  • either side of the withers is sunken
  • vertebrae are higher than the surrounding muscle
  • the hip bones are pointy and the muscle surrounding them sunken
  • the width of the stifles is much narrower than the width of the hips

After ruling out disease as a possible cause of lack of topline in horses, it really comes down to two ways to improve it– diet or exercise. With this plan, we address both of these.

(Video) HOW To Get A Horse In TOP Shape - FAST And EFFECTIVE

Lifestyle

In order to make build topline in horses quickly and effectively, you might need to make a few lifestyle changes.

  • A horse standing in a stable has an idle topline. It is far better if he can be turned out, at least for a few hours every day. Walking around, grazing, playing with his friends will all be beneficial.
  • If you can, stop using haynets or elevated hay racks. Horses should be eating their hay at ground level.
  • Make sure that you, the rider, are fit and balanced. If you are uneven in your seat or flopping around in the saddle, your horse won’t be able to use his back well.
  • Ensure that your saddle fits correctly. A poorly fitting saddle can cause huge problems.
  • Make sure that your horse’s feet are healthy, strong and in good condition. Moving cautiously because of foot pain can cause loss of muscle tone in the back.

Diet

Muscles are made from protein. So, if you want to be building topline in horses, you need to provide adequate protein in the diet. An average horse in average work needs 630 to 900 g of protein per day. Forget about the % protein on the horse food label – you need to work out the actual gram amount. Factor in the protein content of your grazing and hay as well as any supplements. (Email me on beryl@theherbalhorse.com if you need help working it out.)

Then, in addition to the total amount of protein, you need to think about protein quality as well.

In your horse’s body the proteins for muscles are manufactured using a process called protein synthesis. Specific proteins are manufactured, with the help of RNA, by adding amino acids in a specific sequence. (Amino acids are smaller, nitrogen containing molecules which are the building blocks of proteins.)

A big problem arises when a specific amino acid is required and is not available. Essential amino acids are amino acids which cannot be synthesised by the horses body and therefore HAVE to be present in his diet. If the amino acid required by the RNA is not present during protein synthesis, the entire process stops. Which means that that muscle doesn’t get developed. The most ‘limiting’ amino acids are Lysine, Methionine and Threonine. This means they are the amino acids which most often shut down protein synthesis because they are absent.

So it makes sense to add a supplement which contains all of the essential amino acids, especially the limiting ones.

Exercise Program

For the purposes of this programme to build topline in horses, we will assume that the horse in question has been in light work for a few weeks at least and that the rider now wants to get him show ready, fit and (of course) develop his topline. Adjust this programme to suit yourself and your horse, it is simply a guide.

(Video) Ask the Vet - How to build topline in horses

Week 1

Start off by hacking out at a walk on a long rein for about an hour a day. Allow the horse to completely relax, mentally and physically. Encourage him to lower his head and stretch his neck. (This stretches all the muscles along the back.) Walk up and down hills. Don’t slop along – walk forward with a loose swinging stride.

Week 2

Start to introduce trotting in the same loose, free forward way on a long rein. Don’t worry if his head is at knee level, that is where you want it. Do quite a bit of trotting on a long rein up hills. Again, the horse must engage and move forward with energy and purpose.

Week 3

In week 3, introduce canter work, on a long rein out on hacks. Keep it slow and loose and include quite a few hills. If there is safe knee-deep water along your hack, trot through it. Trotting through water causes the horse to lift his belly using his back muscles.

Week 4

You can now introduce work in the school. Keep the long rein, encourage your horse to stretch his neck down. Do large circles, big loops, changes of direction. After warming up long and low, start to pick the reins up and ask for more collection. Do transitions between walk, trot and canter and also within the gait – slow, medium, fast. Ask for short extensions. Use half-halts to encourage self-carriage. Do some easy lateral work where you encourage the horse to step under with the hind legs, engaging the topline muscles. Keep a couple of days a week for hacking as per the previous few weeks.

Week 5 to 8

At this stage, it would be very advantageous to introduce Visconte Simon Cocozza’s system of Core Correction exercises into your schooling routine. This is basically yoga for horses and helps to strengthen the back, specifically helping to prevent back pain and problems such as kissing spine. They can be found in more detail here: http://www.bevet.com/files/introductiontocorecorrection.pdf

(Video) MY FAVOURITE TROT POLE EXERCISES | building strength, top line & straightness

This is a summary of these exercises:

  1. Inside ‘Half Moon’ bend and stretch

A small circle around a cone with a long rein and a lot of inside bend.

  1. Leg yield ‘Triangle’ stretch in walk

Leg yield on a long rein with a low head and a lot of inside bend.

  1. ¼ to full turn about the forehand – The ‘Half Split’

Turn on the forehand. When the horse easily drops the inside rein to you and willingly gives the outside rein a contact, the correction has been made.

  1. ¼ to ½ Pirouette – Turn about the haunches to ‘Thread the Needle’

Turn on the haunches from a standstill, bending to the inside with an open rein.

Top tips from Simon:

  1. Long and low will stretch the horse but when you have an improvement, do the exercise at least once ‘on the bit’.
  2. Try to keep your weight in the saddle and stirrups always even sided whatever is going on.
  3. If you can’t sit to the trot or canter, don’t. Use the exercises to get more spinal freedom and then try later when the gait feels smoother.
  4. When bending the horse never pull the rein, only ever hold steady at the angle you want and wait till the horse gives to the rein in response to the leg. When he wants to drop his head and stretch out, let him.
  5. You and your horse need understand each other very well in order to bond and become one. If you feel that you can do a bit more, try it and let your horse be your guide.
  6. A core score 0 horse (a horse with very low danger of spinal problems) will walk, trot and canter in balance with his nose very near the sand the moment you fully give the reins. This is your goal.

References:

http://www.bevet.com/files/introductiontocorecorrection.pdf

http://equusmagazine.com/article/exercises-to-increase-your-horses-strength-8493

http://equusmagazine.com/article/an-easy-equine-fitness-plan-8488

(Video) Strengthening Your Horse's Neck, Back and Pelvis- Develop the Topline with Three Easy Exercises

http://www.equinechronicle.com/core-strengthening-exercises-for-your-horse/

http://www.reinholdshorsewellness.com/horseexercise.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_biosynthesis

http://nrc88.nas.edu/nrh/

https://ker.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/PROTEIN-REQUIREMENTS-AND-DIGESTIBILITY_-A-REVIEW-104.pdf

http://www.admani.com/horse/Equine%20Library/Charts/Figure1ProteinHorseDiets.gif

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/management_and_nutrition/nutrition_horses/nutritional_requirements_of_horses.html#v4641480

http://www.naturalhorse.com/archive/volume7/Issue3/article_10.php

https://www.horsesandpeople.com.au/article/developing-the-topline

http://blog.smartpakequine.com/2013/12/ask-the-vet-choosing-a-muscle-supplement-for-your-horse/

(Video) Groundwork Exercises That will help build a horse's topline - Backing a figure 8 around barrels

http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/horse-training/getting-fit-the-professional-way-60854

http://practicalhorsemanmag.com/article/anne-kenan-improve-your-horses-topline-28936

FAQs

How long does it take to build a horse topline? ›

Find out how to take the challenge now, and start seeing your horse build topline muscle within 3-6 weeks. Check out the incredible transformations equestrians have achieved with their horses building topline muscle, often in less than 3 weeks!

How do I strengthen my horses topline? ›

Hill Work: Getting a horse to walk over different gradients over hills is a great way to engage the topline muscles. Walking, trotting and catering evenly up and down a hill build muscle retention and stamina. Hill work often works important topline muscles which are difficult to engage over flatter surfaces.

What do you feed a horse to build topline? ›

Feed high quality protein

To build topline you must provide the building blocks your horse needs to make muscle. Using feeds with protein provided by soybeans, lupins, faba bean or canola meal will give your horse access to good quality sources of protein, which builds muscle.

Does lunging build topline? ›

Lunging training is a beneficial cross-exercise that helps to improve your horse's topline.

Does lunging a horse build muscle? ›

Lunging is a great way for horses to exercise and build muscle.

What should a horses topline look like? ›

An ideal topline can be described as well-muscled, displaying a full and rounded athletic appearance, lacking concave or sunken-in areas, providing ability for sustained self-carriage. This region of the horse is a good visual indicator of the whole body amino acid status.

What causes a horse to lose topline? ›

Lack of the right kind of exercise, poor nutrition, degenerative muscle conditions, and chronic systemic disease can all cause loss of muscle mass along the top-line. In older horses, PPID (Cushings Disease) may also contribute to this appearance.

How do I build my horse's back muscle? ›

HOW TO STRENGTHEN YOUR HORSE'S BACK? - YouTube

How do I get my horse to lift his back? ›

How to Engage the Back of your Horse while Riding - YouTube

What supplements help horses build muscle? ›

Protein availability is key to your horse's ability to both create and maintain muscle.
...
Top Five Ingredients for Your Horse's Muscle Health
  • Magnesium. Nearly one-third of your horse's magnesium intake is used for muscle maintenance. ...
  • B Vitamins. ...
  • Vitamin E. ...
  • Selenium. ...
  • Lysine.
21 Feb 2019

Is beet pulp good for horses? ›

In summary, beet pulp is a good dietary supplement for "hard keepers", as a forage or fiber replacement for poor quality hay, and for older horses with problems chewing or digesting hay. The digestible energy content of beet pulp is greater than hay and less than grain.

Does beet pulp have to be soaked? ›

It's not necessary to soak it overnight. If you have extra water, don't worry; you can always drain it off before you feed, or you can feed the beet pulp on the "sloppy" side. Although most horses will eat beet pulp on its own, its appeal will be improved if you stir it into your horse's regular grain ration.

How long should you lunge a horse for? ›

Five to 10 minutes equally on each rein with plenty of walk breaks is sufficient for a lunge session. As your horse's fitness improves, you can increase the time.

What horse feed is high in protein? ›

Protein Sources

Your horse consumes a variety of ingredients from roughage to grains that each have varying levels of protein quantity and quality. High quality protein - Sources high in quality protein are legumes such as soybeans, tick beans, lupins and seed meals from sunflower and canola.

What does lysine do for horses? ›

Lysine is an essential amino acid that is important for maintaining healthy skin and joints in your horse by forming strong collagen bonds. Lysine is the most commonly deficient amino acid in the equine diet because it is low in commonly fed cereal grains and grasses.

What are the disadvantages of lunging a horse? ›

Lunging can cause synovitis in fetlocks and digital tendon sheaths when done excessively (Dressage Today, Dec 6, 2017). Though these injuries when lunging a horse are rare, they still increase the risk of lameness, and should always be considered when developing a training program for a horse.

How long does it take for a horse to get in shape? ›

Generally speaking, you should count on anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks of regular exercising and conditioning in order to get him ready for the challenges of regular trail riding or competitive showing.

How do I get my horse to engage his hind end? ›

Set up a series of trot poles – two on each side of a very low jump, set about 9 feet apart. Trot and canter over the poles. The horse will lift his front end as he travels through the poles. Your horse may jump over the little jump in the middle or might just step over – either way is fine.

What is topline syndrome? ›

Topline Syndrome is the process of changing the shape of a horse's topline and the geometry of the horse. Most often it is thought that riding the horse is what causes this weakness of the back. However, in thousands of treatments, I could see that there are a variety of reasons that lead to back problems in horses.

What causes dip in front of Withers? ›

The muscles that are pulled down is what you see when you look at the dip in front of the wither. In essence, it is the result of horses crashing on their forehand during movement. It's caused by horses not being in self-carriage.

How much alfalfa should you feed your horse? ›

Horses can normally eat 1.5-2% of their body weight in hay, which equates to 18-24 lbs. of hay per day.

Is a horse healthy if you can see its ribs? ›

Ribs: You should be able to feel — but not see — a healthy horse's ribs. Tailhead/Croup: In a too-thin horse, the tailhead is prominent is easily seen. Withers: This varies between breeds, but if your horse is too thin, the shape of the withers will be very visible.

What is the best horse feed to put weight on? ›

Alfalfa is higher in calories and protein than grass hays, which makes it an excellent choice to help to add weight to a thin horse. If your horse tends to be wasteful with his hay, he may eat more when offered alfalfa hay cubes or pellets.

Does speedi beet give energy? ›

There's a high proportion of soluble fibre, mostly pectins in Speedi-Beet, which means its fibre is more easily digested than that found in forage e.g. hay. This makes it a great source of non-heating slow release energy. It's starch free and low in sugar, so safe for laminitics. Speedi-Beet is extremely versatile.

How can I strengthen my horses back legs? ›

Bounces and/or Polework. If your horse jumps, bounces are a great way to build muscle without putting too much strain on their joints. Because the horse has to rock on to their back end and push off the ground to jump, it's particularly beneficial for strengthening the hindquarters.

How do you build a topline on the ground? ›

Hill work is an excellent way to build topline under saddle. Riding up and down hills increases the activity of the muscles in the hindquarters, the back and the abdominal muscles. A slow trot or walk is going to be most beneficial in the early stages.

How do I get my horse's core to engage? ›

A core strength exercise to try on the ground:

Using one of your horse's favourite treats, encourage them to stretch down towards their fetlock and hold the position for a few seconds. If they find that quite easy you can take the stretch slightly further back. Ensuring the neck stretches down and to the side.

How often should you ride your horse? ›

If you want to ride in upper-level competitions, it's not uncommon for horses to get an intense training session 6 days a week. However, if you just want to keep your horse in a healthy physical condition, riding your horse three times a week for at least 20 minutes at a time can help maintain a good level of health.

What is a roach back horse? ›

Roach back, known also as kyphosis, occurs occasionally in young horses that grow rapidly. Typically, onset happens after weaning at six to nine months of age. The dorsal processes of the lumbar vertebrae are unusually tall, giving the animal a characteristic hump-backed appearance.

How do you tell if a horse is working from behind? ›

If a horse's hind-end isn't engaged, then the back legs look as if they're being left behind, the back is hollow, and the neck is inverted. If a horse's hind-end is engaged, their hind legs are extending underneath them, their back is lifted and carried, and the neck is round.

What causes a horse to lose topline? ›

Lack of the right kind of exercise, poor nutrition, degenerative muscle conditions, and chronic systemic disease can all cause loss of muscle mass along the top-line. In older horses, PPID (Cushings Disease) may also contribute to this appearance.

How do I build my horse's back muscle? ›

HOW TO STRENGTHEN YOUR HORSE'S BACK? - YouTube

How do you build the hindquarter muscle in a horse? ›

The best way to strengthen the hind end of a horse is to start with stretches. Tight muscles are weak muscles. After stretching I recommend interval training. Short vigorous spurts (similar to us doing wind sprints) followed by slower gaited movements.

What is topline syndrome? ›

Topline Syndrome is the process of changing the shape of a horse's topline and the geometry of the horse. Most often it is thought that riding the horse is what causes this weakness of the back. However, in thousands of treatments, I could see that there are a variety of reasons that lead to back problems in horses.

Does beet pulp put weight on horses? ›

Beet pulp can be used to help underweight horses gain weight, as it provides approximately 1,000 kcals per pound (one quart of dry beet pulp shreds weighs approximately 0.5-0.6 pounds).

What is a good source of protein for horses? ›

Your horse consumes a variety of ingredients from roughage to grains that each have varying levels of protein quantity and quality. High quality protein - Sources high in quality protein are legumes such as soybeans, tick beans, lupins and seed meals from sunflower and canola.

Is a horse healthy if you can see its ribs? ›

Ribs: You should be able to feel — but not see — a healthy horse's ribs. Tailhead/Croup: In a too-thin horse, the tailhead is prominent is easily seen. Withers: This varies between breeds, but if your horse is too thin, the shape of the withers will be very visible.

How can I strengthen my horses back legs? ›

Bounces and/or Polework. If your horse jumps, bounces are a great way to build muscle without putting too much strain on their joints. Because the horse has to rock on to their back end and push off the ground to jump, it's particularly beneficial for strengthening the hindquarters.

Is lunging good exercise for a horse? ›

Lunging can be a great way to exercise your horse, especially if time is short or you're unable to ride. Aside from helping to build and maintain fitness, lunging offers lots of benefits: Encourages suppleness, engagement and obedience. Improves balance, especially in young horses.

How do you build a topline on the ground? ›

Hill work is an excellent way to build topline under saddle. Riding up and down hills increases the activity of the muscles in the hindquarters, the back and the abdominal muscles. A slow trot or walk is going to be most beneficial in the early stages.

How do I get my horse to engage his hind end? ›

How to engage the horses' hindquarters. - YouTube

How do I get my horse's core to engage? ›

Place a row of trotting poles approximately one metre apart flat on the floor, and either lead your horse in-hand or long-rein over them, encouraging him to step over each pole at walk while remaining in rhythm. Your horse's core muscles will engage every time he picks up his feet.

Can muscle atrophy be reversed in horses? ›

Atrophy will occur under severe instances of constant pressure. The pressure will first damage the hair follicles (resulting in hair loss and/or white hair). The atrophy can be reversed only when the cause is addressed (i.e., the pinching saddle), allowing the muscle to regrow— although the white hairs will remain.

Videos

1. Stretches for horses // Building Topline #2
(K and the Bays)
2. Topline muscle development of the horse
(Deanna Corby)
3. Long and Low // How To Get Started
(The Willing Equine)
4. How To Build Up Topline With Lungeing Training
(Lungeing Training)
5. How to build up muscles in horse training
(Kenzie Dysli)
6. WHAT I FED MY THOROUGHBRED TO GAIN MUSCLE AND WEIGHT
(Alex Devonport Eventing)

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