Building up muscle is important to maintain a healthy posture, avoiding a weak back which can hinder their performance as they are unable carry out certain movements effectively.
The back is one of the most important parts of your horse’s body and can have a huge impact on their lifestyle if not in good health.
Especially for horse’s who are regularly ridden, a weak back can cause them intense discomfort when a weight is present and make them dangerous to ride, with the risk of unpredictable movements being increased significantly.
The topline describes the muscles that cover the back, neck and hindquarters. This area should be well built up with muscle, creating a full and rounded appearance which displays a healthy topline that can help your horse with movement and power.
If your horse displays sunken areas along their back, it indicates a loss of muscle which could have been caused by poor nutrition, a lack of exercise or a more serious medical condition that will need to be diagnosed by a professional as soon as possible.
If you are looking to improve your horse’s topline, there are various ways you can help build up these muscles with a little patience and regular training.
It’s time to swap the stable rugs for exercise rugs and try out some of these simple methods which focus on the back muscles.
However, it is important to understand that this process is gradual and will require starting from a suitable level of activity which your horse can withstand, slowly building up the intensity as the muscles start to form.
Basic stretching movements can have a huge positive impact on your horse’s health, activating various muscles to keep them in top condition. A popular type of stretching includes holding their favourite treat and guiding their head in various directions, activating their head and neck muscles.
It is also effective to encourage the horse to stretch its head to the ground in between the front feet as this keeps their hips moving and strengthens the back.
As well as exercise, your horse’s diet plays a huge part in their strength. Feed that provides the necessary proteins and amino acids will ensure their body gets the nutrition it needs to effectively develop muscles and retain them.
Most standard horse feeds contain addition proteins, fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals which help ensure your horse is consuming the nutrients they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle; these proteins contain amino acids which are essential for the building of muscles.
Depending on the quality of the feed you give to your horse, it may be necessary to include extra supplements that increase amino acid intake, especially for horses with a more active lifestyle.
If necessary, working with a professional to establish a diet tailored to your horse’s needs and activity levels will ensure their requirements are met, adding any supplements into their lifestyle as needed.
Although a simple exercise, there are various benefits that come with backing up.
By making your horse back up, their movement will engage their core and help build up muscles on the hind end. As your horse gets used to the action, you can slowly build up the amount of steps they are able to take backwords and strengthen the muscles.
As well as being great for the back, the exercise is effective for teaching personal space and respect.
Taking your horse to hilly areas and working them up and down is great for the body, being an easy way to naturally strengthen their muscles.
The movement activates the back and hind end, with regular inclines being great for muscle retention and their stamina. Hill work forces your horse’s brain to establish their centre of gravity and find the best posture for the terrain, being a valuable part of any training programme.
Going back down hill is equally as valuable, requiring them to step slowly and carefully and engage their muscles.
Avoid poor saddle fit
A weak topline can also be caused from the incorrect positioning of a saddle, causing the horse to keep readjusting their posture in order to find relief from the uncomfortable saddle on their back.
Especially for younger horses who can learn bad habits if they need to change their posture off the back of an ill-fitting saddle, the damage can be lasting and have long term impacts.
Your saddle should be regularly fitted, especially for younger horses who are growing, and adjusted to ensure it is suitably positioned.
Also commonly referred to as cross rails, ground poles offer a lot of benefit in a horse’s training plan, creating improved focus, balance, coordination and elasticity.
By creating different patterns with ground poles, your horse will have to figure out the best way to approach the obstacles and will need to look down to carefully move their feet.
By not being able to have their head up without hitting the ground poles, the long and low position will engage their topline and help build up those all important muscles.
This activity is especially effective for young and untrained horses, developing a lot of essential skills through a relatively simple exercise.
Build up the abdominals
Although focusing on the back is important, you won’t be able to successfully improve the topline if your horse’s abdominals aren’t working properly, as the back muscles will be working alone and will rigidify.
When both groups are toned and work at the same time, the bodily balance will enhance the movements for maximum results and a healthier body structure.
Exercises such as neck extensions are effective, being simple movements that tense the muscles, as well as backward steps which make your horse focus on coordination and engage a different set of muscles.
To ensure you are engaging the whole body when training to build back muscles, also incorporate exercises such as bounce jumps as this is a method of engaging the abdominal muscles quickly.