A healthy topline area supports a horse’s spine and articulation and will help him carry a rider in a soft, harmonious manner.

Your horse’s topline is the space that runs from his withers, along his back and down to his croup.This area includes the thoracic trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and the longissimus dorsi muscles.

If you ride a horse with a dipped or hollowed back, you may inadvertently cause him to suffer physical issues in the future, such as a kissing spine and saddle sores because of poor saddle fit and an absence of musculature.

Why Topline Matters

When a horse does not have sufficient topline strength, and he is made to carry a rider, the effects are obvious immediately. Because he lacks the muscle to hold the saddle, it will cause his back to dip and his head will shoot up, requiring most of the rider’s weight to be carried on the horse’s inside front leg.

The dip in the back means the saddle cannot make contact equally along the spine, and the saddle bridges and often causes pressure points on either side of the wither and lower back.

Riding a horse in this way is painful for the horse and frustrating for the rider. Because the horse uses his inside front leg to support the weight of the person on his back, his head will tilt to the outside, and his neck and shoulders will lock up. The horse will not move freely, and his gaits will be expressed in short, stiff steps that require him to set the hoof down on the toe rather than the heel.

Alternatively, when a horse has a strong topline, it can keep its head perpendicular to the ground (rather than up in the air) which elongates the spine, engages the back and allows the weight of the rider to be carried on his inside hind leg.

Since the spine stays level, it is lifted to provide even distribution of weight in the saddle- which means the saddle will fit and pressure points will be avoided. Since the weight bearing leg is the inside leg, the shoulder and neck are free from stress and the hooves are able to get right underneath the hip, allowing the horse to move out and bend easily.

Judging a Horse’s Topline

A great way to gauge a horse’s topline is to use a grading system like that in the image below. This grading system can be used on any horse, at any point in their life, and is an important tool when deciding whether a horse is able to carry a rider correctly or not.

Grade 4 The perfect topline. The horse’s back, loin and croup are well rounded, the muscles are well developed and the spinal bones can’t be seen.

Grade 3 The topline is slightly dipped in the back area between the vertebrae, and the top of the ribs. The sides of the horse’s withers may be sunken, and there may be a dip between the back vertebrae. Croup and hip muscling is fair, pelvis to the point of the hip is plump.

Grade 2 The topline is dipped in the back and loin areas. Withers between vertebrae and ribs are sunken. The spinal column is prominent. Muscles over the hindquarters are established and rounded.

Grade 1 The topline dips in the back, loin, and croup areas. The withers, loins, and croup are sunken and the spinal column and hip bones are higher than the muscles between them.

Feeding For Topline

Besides fitness, nutrition plays a decisive factor in developing a horse’s topline. There are many stretches and ridden exercises to help build up topline strength, but correct feeding is just as important.

Performance and recreational horses require protein and amino acids to build muscle and strength just like human athletes do, and feeding for a good topline requires a mixture of crude protein, fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Protein is the proportion that contains muscle-building amino acids, and since grass-based forage usually contains only small amounts of protein, it may be necessary to feed your horse a concentrate or balancer that raises the levels of amino acids in his diet.

The 10 amino acids most important for growth and muscle development in horses are:

  1. Lysine
  2. Threonine
  3. Methionine
  4. Valine
  5. Leucine
  6. Isoleucine
  7. Phenylalanine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Arginine
  10. Histidine

Need to build some topline on your horse? Try Kelpies Muscle Up!

Check out Muscle Up, one of our best-selling feeds that contains highly digestible proteins that promote muscle development while preventing fat deposition.

Thanks to a special formulation of fibre and vegetable oils, slow-release energy permits a reduction of starch loads and avoids any unwanted ‘heating’ effects in horses.

This feed is formulated with a highly bioavailable vitamin-mineral package that increases the absorption of B-complex vitamins, especially those related to carbohydrates and fat metabolism.


Author Cristina

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