Learn how to assess your horse’s Body Condition Score and Topline Condition Score in this informative how-to video from Nutrena. Both scores are important in understanding the nutritional health and well-being of your horse, and can help guide your feeding routine and feed selection process.
Rebuilding Topline: “Pre-Work” Prior to Putting Your Horse Back in Work
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If your horse has been out of work for a few months this might just be the perfect time to do a little prep work.
Before you hop back in the saddle, use the weeks prior to check if your horse’s diet is balanced and providing the nutrients to have their body ready to support, recover and rebuild when you start exercising.
A common misconception 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.
Ensure the nutritional building blocks of muscle are available in your horse’s diet before you head back to work so their system will have the nutrients available to build the muscle and support their body.
One suggestion to help with this issue is to combine a feed that contains guaranteed levels of the right amino acids (fed at the right amounts per the feed tag) with a healthy exercise program for best topline results. Work with your veterinarian and equine nutritionist to ensure you are on the right track.
A great resource is available at ToplineBalance.com by clicking on the “Fix My Topline” button and walking through the 8 questions in the barn with your horse.
Assessing Your Horse’s Topline
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 ToplineBalance.com and do an online assessment, with customized feeding recommendations specific to your horse’s needs!
How Horse Muscles are Built and Maintained
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 through exercise 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 nutritional building 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.
Horse owners should combine a feed that contains guaranteed levels of the right amino acids (fed at the right amounts per the feed tag) with a healthy exercise program for best topline results.
To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.
Topline Saddle fit: Impact on Topline
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.
To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.