Improving Your Horse’s Topline – Why Exercise Alone Isn’t the Answer

A common misperception about topline is that it can be improved through exercise alone. Lack of exercise – or the wrong type of work ‑ is often blamed for a poor topline. While exercise will certainly alter existing muscles, building new muscles is a different story. The nutritional building blocks of muscle (essential amino acids) must be present in sufficient quantities and balanced with adequate calories to rebuild or augment muscle tissue. In fact, if a horse is worked hard but his diet lacks sufficient amino acids, existing muscle mass can shrink. This can be a slippery slope in some situations, and as muscle atrophy sets in, the belief is that the horse needs to work even harder when in fact the fuel is not present (in the form of nutrition) to help support and repair tissue that is broken down with exercise. Just like human athletes, athletic equine partners need more essential amino acids than maintenance horses to maximize the effects of training and allow the horse to look and feel its best.

Certain exercises are thought to improve topline include hill work, backing exercises, and those that encourage the horse to collect and arc the body. These exercises can help condition muscles, but only if the diet is supporting the muscles through proper nutrition. Before you put your horse into a conditioning program, be sure that your diet is in balance and you’ll be much happier with the results.

To determine what nutrition best fits your horse’s needs, take the Topline Balance assessment for a customized nutrition plan.

How to Take a Photo of Your Horse’s Topline

If you’ve ever tried to photograph your horse, you know it can be challenging at times! It takes a lot of patience, time and a little luck. But capturing photos of your horse, especially ‘before and after’ ones, can be very rewarding. It’s exciting to see the progress made from a new feeding regimen, new product or new routine. So to make the task a little easier, we’ve compiled some go-to tips:

• Be safe! Plan plenty of time, patience and have a trusted helper.
•  Use the same plain colored backdrop for each photo (a plain colored door of a barn, garage door, etc).
• Be sure your lighting is bright and consistent every time.
• Be sure you are standing at the same distance every time.
• Be sure that the horse is groomed, and standing square with their poll at the same height for both before and after pictures.
• Try to minimize distractions, crop out the handler, like in the ‘after’ photo below.
• Take a posterior photo to show muscle improvement
• Square the horse up.
• Stand on a stool to be sure you get the right angle.
• Be safe, stand a safe distance behind the horse.
• Keep your backdrop and lighting consistent.

To learn more, visit

Assessing Your Horse’s Topline

A horse’s topline — the muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters — plays an important role in how a horse performs, looks and feels. But identifying and assessing this area does take a few steps, so we’ve provided some easy guidance! Click below to visit and do an online assessment, with customized feeding recommendations specific to your horse’s needs!