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.