Whether you are looking for a new technique to build up muscle over the topline or your horse is coming back into work after an injury, a strong topline is vital.
The topline is considered the muscles that line a horse’s back, neck and hindquarters, which works together when a horse is moving balanced and correctly. The developed muscles along a horse’s back act as a buffer to the weight of a rider in the saddle. But movement through a horse’s back should be fluid and have some give.
Very often horse will develop muscles in the wrong place when worked incorrectly by the ridder into an unnatural frame, this is one of the main ways a horse can develop a weak back. When your horse has a weak top line it is hard for them to move and jump as well as they could be able to and won't "track-up" from behind. A horse that has a weak topline will also look hollow at the neck and wither area and sometimes even look sunken at the hips.
Here are some tips on how to develop a strong topline in your horse.
1. Assess your situation- It's important to first look at your horse current routine before changing your excise and lunging routine. Things like is the horse fit enough to handle working on the correct contact? Horses who are forced into incorrect frames, often times when they are over-flexed at the poll, will compensate in other ways, like developing muscle in improper areas. Diet is also a very important factor for the horse's muscle development. Protein and amino acids are important for muscle retention. Remember if you as the rider is unsure, it's a good idea to work with a trainer to establish proper and supportive form in the saddle.
2. Strengthening- There are some specific stretches that riders can do with their horse to activate a horse’s core. Some are as simple as “carrot stretches”, where riders can encourage their horses to twist and lift their back by using a carrot to guide their head and neck. ask the horse to stretch to its left and right hips, and to stretch its nose to the ground in between the front feet as a way to warm up the back.
3. Backing up- Getting your horse to back up can also be a good and effective exercise to do to strengthen your horses back. When backing up, the horse’s hind end will come underneath him and engage his core. While this is commonly used as a groundwork exercise to establish personal space and respect, it is also a great exercise to build muscle in the hind end. you should start with this as a ground exercise but the more your horse develops you can slowly start doing this while riding.
4. Cavaletti on the lunge or under saddle- Pole or cavaletti work on the lunge line or under saddle are great exercises to encourage a horse to lift his back (along with his legs) and drop his head and neck. Start with one or two poles that are appropriately placed apart from one another (again check with a trainer if you are unsure on how to measure striding between poles). Walking and trotting is a good way to start until the horse understands what you asking of them. Then feel free to add more poles and progress to a quiet, balanced canter. For an additional challenge, riders can add raised cavaletti in the place of ground poles.
5. Hill work- If you are lucky enough to have access to a small hill or any sloped piece of land this is really a great way to develop great back muscles and activate the muscles in his hind end and back in a natural way without trying to maintain a balanced frame.
6. Long and low- Last but defiantly not lease we recommend riding long and low. This is when you allow the horse the work with there head low to the ground and allowing the neck to stretch down. This is a great first step in encouraging your horse to use their back, shoulders, and hind end freely. Over time you will really start seeing your horse finding this easier and will start to enjoy this exercise.
Every horse is different and some may take longer to develop and also way check with your trainer exercises you arent sure about.