The short answer is no. You can’t separate or isolate the topline from the rest of the horse. It’s not a car where the parts begin and end. Your horse’s topline is very firmly attached to every other part of it’s body. A horse will build a strong topline when it’s able to transfer power correctly.
With that in mind, here are a few tips on how you can work towards a healthier topline;
- Soundness – have your Vet out to make sure your horse is comfortable and capable of the work you plan to do with it.
- Feet – sore feet or unproductive angles will make it impossible for your horse to use its body correctly.
- Nutrition – good nutrition supports daily functions and muscle growth. Talk to your Vet to make sure your feed program is doing as much as it can for you.
- Turnout – Living out promotes circulation, hoof health, and overall fitness. If your horse is stalled, provide as much safe turnout as you can.
- Strong Core – Core muscles are key to good static and dynamic posture. Core muscles stabilize the back and pelvis and support the organs and your weight. Your horse needs a strong, athletic core to develop powerful, balanced movement.
- Saddle fit – there’s nothing you can do to help your horse build a better topline if your saddle doesn’t fit. Diet changes, time of year, soundness, changes in turnout and building or losing muscle will all affect saddle fit so have it checked regularly.
- Massage – Massage helps your horse recover faster and build muscle. Benefits of massage include improved muscle function, improved joint alignment, mobilized fascia, stronger muscles, increased stride length, enhanced relaxation and improved overall performance.
Once you’ve optimized your horse and your gear it’s time to evaluate whether your horse is using itself well enough to engage its topline. Your horse will need to be able carry itself in a relaxed outline, be centered and supple both ways and working towards an uphill balance.
If you have these basics on track you can start introduce some exercises that should help your horse build a strong and healthy topline – I say “should” because how you execute them matters.
Here are a few ways you can help develop a supportive, healthy topline;
- In-hand work – lunging, long lining, ponying and other in-hand exercises let your horse’s back and body move freely.
- Hill work – start slow and build up carefully.
- Pole work – poles encourage effort and ROM. Each gait offers different benefits.
- Grids – grids can teach technique and build strength and power. Get an expert to help.
- Dressage/Flat work – quality dressage training helps to build athleticism, strength, core stability and carriage.
- Water treadmill – another way to get off your horse’s back and increase ROM and resistance.
Please note that I STRONGLY recommend working closely with an experienced professional to develop, monitor and regularly update your own horse’s personalized training plan. The quality of your care and training will be reflected by your horse.
Additional Reading: Carrot Stretches After Riding