What does Topline mean?
The horse’s topline is a reference to the muscle groups that run to either side and over the top of the horse’s spine and some of which the rider sits on. The specific area in which top line It encompasses the vertebral column (backbone) from the end of the neck in the withers area, along the back and loin and over the top of the hip to the croup.
Food for a good Topline
The top line is something feed companies love to talk about, but the simple reality is that feed alone will not build muscle on the horse’s top line; Feeding is definitely relevant and will add condition, but only the right work will build proper muscle coverage by converting that food source into muscle tone. No matter how much you feed a horse that is on light work or no work, the maximum profit will be minimal; toplline can only reflect the age of the horse, the state of his health and any work he is doing. A horse that is fit and works hard on a good training program is going to outperform a retired horse or a young horse that is out of a job.
11 ways to build a strong top line
Muscle development in the horse’s back will vary depending on age and level of training. A young horse starting his career will have less top line than an older established horse who may be working at the highest levels of dressage. Similarly, an older horse that begins to show age-related stiffness and less athletic function will maintain less of a topline as the performance level begins to decline.
A good topline is the product of work, management and nutrition. A good diet and work will be of no use if the horse has a hidden limp behind it, back pain because the saddle is too tight, or a problem in the mouth that makes it uncomfortable. Here are 11 ways you can help your horse build a proper top line.
- Make sure your horse is comfortable. on his saddle and on his back; regular saddle checks and adjustments are crucial as the job changes and the horse’s form alters
- Physiotherapy, chiropractic or osteopathic treatments they are essential for promoting athletic function in the working horse and a good top line will never develop without it. A supportive therapist is as critical to your horse’s development as the trainer, remember, tension, discomfort or even pain will always restrict a horse’s movement.
- Plan a work schedule that is progressive and takes into account age, temperament and education – a horse that is asked to do too much or that is not fit for the job asked of it will struggle and tense up and ache in its body
- work with a nutritionist to develop a correct and supportive diet. Protein is the requirement for building muscle, but protein alone will not work without all the other elements of a balanced diet and proper training and management. Many owners feed too much protein in the mistaken belief that this alone will add to the top line, however a balanced diet is essential and a happy, comfortable horse that is being worked properly will never develop a good top line without proper feeding.
- Ask your physio, chiropractor or osteopath to recommend some exercises what you can do with your horse on the ground that involves building core strength: carrot stretches are perhaps the best known, where the horse is asked to stretch to each side to reach for a carrot and then place its head between its legs front which involves using the core abdominal muscle to lift and round the back
- Using half stops and transitions in his mounted work to encourage the horse to develop strength behind the saddle
- Incorporate long and low work in your sessions, regardless of the discipline the horse is working in – the horse will still need to be engaged and connected and working in defined contact
- remember to stretch the horse frequently for recovery periods during his riding sessions
- Don’t limit your riding work to an arenause hill work to promote strength and balance, even walking up and down hills will help promote correct use of the attached muscle chains, but trotting and cantering on an uphill frame when the horse is strong enough it will also be very beneficial for core development
- use photographs to regularly record condition and top line, they can act as an independent record and prevent you from relying solely on the eye, which can be fallible. The horse should be photographed on flat, level ground and in the same location, as it can be easy to change the appearance of the image with different photography techniques.
- Accept that interruptions at the work level will lead to unavoidable loss of muscle, whether due to prolonged bad weather, rider injury or horse problems; the muscle will return when work resumes
Developing a good top line in your horse, as with many things horse related, is not just about a single factor like feed or work; A good top line develops because there is a well managed routine for the horse that is age appropriate with progressive and correctly structured training. Crucially, there must also be an absence of pain and discomfort which sounds obvious, but the problems of progressive age can manifest slowly and are not always obvious.
Some horses will always appear to have a better top line than others and this can be dictated by age and breed type and also by the type of work the horse is doing. It is always important to look at your horse as an individual and take a holistic view of his age, condition and workload and try not to constantly compare him to other horses who may be totally alternate types and subject to very different riding and care programmes.