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by Claire Breitschopf

Supporting your horse’s topline with nutrition and exercise

Supporting your horse’s topline with nutrition and exercise

What is topline on a horse?

The topline of the horse includes the withers and back, loin, and croup. It is ideal for all three of these areas to appear flush. In other words, we do not want to see the horse’s vertebral column. 

Different breeds have different normal slopes of the withers. For example, in many Quarter Horses you can see the withers but muscle appears flush to support the back, while Warmbloods and Arabians tend to have larger, more pronounced wither slopes. 

The loin muscles and the croup should continue from the back with a full appearance. Horses with a poor topline will have overly prominent withers, a sunken back and loin and no rounding of the croup. It is possible for a horse to have adequate muscle in their chest and rump, but have an unmuscled topline.

Causes of poor horse topline

  • Saddle fit: A poor saddle fit can create pressure points that cause a hose to compensate, thereby changing their posture to experience the least amount of pain. As you can imagine, the horse adapts overtime by strengthening the compensatory muscles while the main topline muscles become atrophied due to lack of use.
  • Nutrition: Most commercial horse feeds are balanced by nutritionists and should therefore have a balanced amino acid profile and adequate crude protein for the horse. The problem comes from not feeding what the bag recommends. When horses do not receive the appropriate building blocks of muscle in the diet (i.e. quality protein and amino acids), proper muscle development is a challenge. 
  •  Lameness: A lame horse carries their body in a way that gives them the most relief. Therefore, all of the muscle groups are not being used as they should.
  • Core stability: Some horses just need to build their muscles. To have a strong topline, the horse must have a strong core. The core muscles are what support the horse’s back and his rider.

How to get topline on a horse

The very first thing you need to do is identify the root cause of your horse's poor topline. Work through these steps to determine what is going on. 

  • Get a professional saddle fitter to come check out your saddle fit.
  • Make sure you are feeding according to your horse feed bag labels. Speak to a nutritionist to make sure your horse is getting the appropriate nutritional building blocks to have healthy muscles. 
  • Try a supplement that supports overall horse muscle and joint health. FullBucket’s Medical Muscle is a powerful antioxidant formulation that helps support muscles and joints by removing free radicals. It provides energy, helps with endurance, and helps recovery after exercise. 
  • If your horse is lame, work with your vet and determine how to correct or manage it.
  • Use specific horse topline exercises to build and maintain core stability! Your horse will grow stronger and you will have some fun at the same time! 

Horse topline exercises for core stability

In addition to the tips above for building topline on a horse, here’s some “extra credit” that is easy for you to try with your four-legged friend. 

  1. Sternal lift: Rub your fingers under your horse’s abdomen starting at the girth area making your way back, this should cause them to lift up their sternal and abdominal area. This strengthens the abdominal muscles as well as stretches the horse’s thoracic vertebral column.

  2. Nose to chest, nose to fetlocks, nose between front legs: These are all exercises where the horse is stretching and strengthening their neck muscles. This ultimately will help straighten the horses back posture. Use your hand or a treat to encourage your horse to move their head to either their chest, fetlocks, or between their front legs.

  3. The booty lift: Start at the top of your horse’s bum near the tail head and using pressure run your fingers down their rump on both sides. This will cause the lumbar, abdominal, and iliopsoas muscles to engage, creating a stronger lower back for your horse.

While there may not be a quick fix horse topline supplement or magic pill, following these steps along with FullBucket’s Medical Muscle is a great comprehensive plan for improving a horse’s strength!

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