Having a healthy topline is important for all horses whether they are pleasure horses, show horses or pets. If you go to the gym you will see everyone from the extreme athlete to people recovering from injuries to stay-at-home-moms and elderly people working toward a healthy and strong core for overall health. Horses are similar in that they need a strong core in order for the rest of their bodies to work to properly.
It’s been said that a healthy topline is the key to overall horse health and 7 out of 10 American Association of Equine Practitioners agree. The rest of your horse’s body can’t work to its maximum potential if his core isn’t strong. Even if you have an idle horse that’s recovering from injury or has had the winter off he will come back into work more safely and quickly if you keep up with a balanced diet that’s supportive of his topline health while he’s taking a break.
No matter what job your horse has, he will be feeling and/or performing his best if his overall health is the best it can be. That all starts with a diet that is supportive of his topline. Your lesson horses and trail horses may work just as hard as the elite show jumpers and you as their care taker want them feeling and looking their best no matter what their job is. Even the retired horse will age more gracefully and without compromising stature if their topline is maintained through diet.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which provide for the building of muscle supporting the topline. Feeding a feed that is specifically formulated to support these muscles in the correct ratios for your horse is the best way to support his overall health. Nutrena has solutions for all types of horses; the senior, the athlete, the easy keeper, and the maintenance horse with our SafeChoice and ProForce lines as well as with our Empower Balance diet balancer. Talk with an equine specialist today to help determine the best feeding program for your horse to help support a strong and healthy topline.
A common misperception about topline is that it can be improved through exercise alone. Lack of exercise – or the wrong type of exercise is often blamed for a poor topline. While exercise alters 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.
Q: What are the Building Blocks of topline muscles?
A) Vitamins and Minerals B) Fresh Air and Water
C) Amino Acids
If you answered C (amino acids) you are correct! One of the most common misperceptions about topline is that it can be improved throughexercise alone. Research shows that horse owners are more likely to believe they can influence their horse’s topline through exercise more than any other method. Additionally, lack of or incorrect exercise is often mistakenly attributed to poor topline development and definition.
While exercise will condition and train existing muscles, it can only help build topline if the nutritionalbuilding blocks of muscles—amino acids—are available in the diet. In fact, if a horse is worked hard enough, and significant amino acids are not present in the diet to build and develop the muscles being trained, muscle mass can be reduced. Just like human athletes, equine athletic partners need more amino acids than the sedentary horse to allow training to be fully utilized and allow the horse look its best.
Poor saddle fit can be a symptom of a much larger issue. If the musculature of the horse’s back/topline area is not full and rounded, expressing high quality of muscle, many times a saddle will not fit correctly. In these instances riders may try to overcompensate for this deficiency by using extra padding and/or trying multiple saddles. Poor saddle fit can cause pain and soreness in the horse with pressure and points that may pinch and be uncomfortable. This pain and pressure can manifest itself in a poor attitude or poor performance. In addition, saddle fit issues may show up in irritability during tacking up, hesitation or refusals to take action on one side vs. the other (think leads, etc.) and overall unpleasant disposition.
While poor saddle fit can come from a variety of areas, including size, shape and defects of the saddle, one thing that should be considered is that the topline of the horse is lacking and therefore causing issues with saddle fit. In extreme cases, when topline scores have been improved from a low grade to an ideal grade, the fit of the saddle is enhanced to a noticeable extent. In the illustration below, you can see how the key muscles in the topline area may impact the way that the saddle sits on the horse.