Building the top line

Hey guys!

So I just bought a mare who has had the entire summer off and really needs to get back into shape. She’s got a long, somewhat low back (she’s had 4 babies) so her topline really looks terrible without muscle definition. I am thinking lots of hill work and transitions. I was also thinking about working on ground poles but I’m curious how far apart I should space them to be effective. She’s 16.3 so she’s got nice, long legs. Any suggestions?

Remember that only correct work will build correct muscle. Hill work, transitions, and all the rest will improve her general fitness, but unless the horse is properly engaged, stepping under itself, and lifting its back, it won’t do anything to help her topline. The same is true with cavaletti. Putting a few ground poles down is not enough to properly build the topline of a horse. Sorry. They won’t teach you how to get your horse to round, reach for the bit, and lift its back either… you may as well watch your horse lift its back while grazing.

Riding her forward, on the bit, and properly bent will do it. Push her; most riders are way too easy on their horses. If she’s really that weak then I wouldn’t overdo the transitions until she’s a bit stronger. If she has a nice canter then spend more time working canter than trot.

If you haven’t the first clue as to how to ride a horse forward and on the aids, then buy some Vienna reins and lunge her until she’s built some muscle. Lunge three times per week and ride the rest. They’ll allow her to develop properly without having to contend with a rider… which, if she’s really that weak is may be the best way to start anyhow.

Yes, forward, lots of trotting (and over poles and cavelletti), trot transitions, and long and low helped my mare after she was off while from a bad bout with allergies. I’d also added aminos to her diet to help with muscle condition, building and repair.

Trot, trot, trot :slight_smile:

Found this for you (my horses are smaller than yours so I didn’t actually know - I go by steps and habit of what has worked):

http://cha-ahse.org/store/pages/182/SETTING-TROT-POLES.html

I would start conservatively with a horse that has been out of ridden work for that long. You don’t want to begin with a ton of transitions and hill work before she is physically able to do it without making her sore. Years ago there was a guy here who posted a really excellent conditioning program that started with quite a bit of (active) walking, which is where I would start the OP’s horse. Not just meandering around out on some trails, but using an active, marching walk with proper warm up and cool down. Then I’d add some trotting/cantering into the mix, again focusing on quality rather than quantity. Slow is fast when it comes to building a topline correctly.

There was a study done - don’t have time to look it up but you could possibly google it - that showed if you do carrot stretches everyday - I believe the study was 5 days a week for a month that - that it also builds the top line. The horses receive no work other than the carrot stretches and were against a control group of horses. In my mind 5 minutes a day couldn’t hurt. Especially if you are adding to the ridden work.

Agreed! Starting with long walks is how endurance riders begin their conditioning too - your mare will appreciate starting that way.

Make sure you have a saddle that fits (or fits with a shim pad) - discomfort will make her hollow away from the saddle & you will never get topline then - & that you are riding in a light balanced seat.

I always suggest correct lunge work to build topline (even just 10 min a day before/after your walking ride will greatly benefit) - also make sure she has enough protein in her diet.
If she’s underweight or has been lacking protein for a while, it will take much longer for her to build topline.

If she’s essentially been a broodmare for the last several years, she may be very weak u/s, if she’s been in limited turnouts she may be completely lacking in muscle strength.
Age will also impact her quickness in regaining/building muscle.

There really is not enough information in the OP - photos & some in-hand walk/trot video would help.

https://scontent-b-atl.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc3/1235003_10202153330140875_617078891_n.jpg

Here is a picture of her. I didn’t buy her from the breeding program. She spent the last year before her summer off at a hunter barn but I bought her with the intention do eventually do dressage with her.

Is the photo current?

Yes, taken about a week ago.

She’s very cute :).

Thanks! :slight_smile: She’s a sweet heart. A little bit of a brat on the ground but mostly a saint under saddle. I’ve been riding for a long time but only just started learning the “technical stuff” and sometimes don’t have the best balance. She’s very good about getting on the bit and working for me.

It sounds like she’ll do well then! I was going to suggest a chambon if she doesn’t reach down, which helps a horse who has the bad habit of hollowing. Not the chambon de-gogue, but the chambon itself (which doesn’t draw the nose in).

[QUOTE=camilouwho;7197967]https://scontent-b-atl.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc3/1235003_10202153330140875_617078891_n.jpg

Here is a picture of her. I didn’t buy her from the breeding program. She spent the last year before her summer off at a hunter barn but I bought her with the intention do eventually do dressage with her.[/QUOTE]

She’s lovely & she’s got nice butt muscles :lol:
definitely atrophied (maybe too strong a word but maybe not) through the topline or she may just have a “natural” swayback regardless of history.

Do you have a dressage coach/trainer to work with? though really any trainer that understands horse physiology/locomotion will be able to help you with targeted exercises :slight_smile: that will really help more than internet/videos/books.

If you find a good equine body worker, there are lots of stretches that will help her - again they will be targeted to her specifically so it’s worth the investment in someone hands-on.

You can definitely do the carrot stretches & tummy touches (she will lift her back when you get the right spot - though some horses will lift at any touch) BUT remember to only start with a few rep’s on each side as she will be using new muscles (you can increase the number daily though, just also palpate to track any soreness).

As she was in a hunter program for a year before having the summer off, don’t worry too much about starting s.l.o.w
She should be fine for WTC, transitions, poles etc - just all in moderation; e.g., just ride 20 - 30 min/day the first week.
You can also hand walk her to warm up/cool down, take her on an outing down the road etc in addition to riding.
If you’re able to go to the barn morning & evening, you could also lunge her
10 min /day - at the walk - to build topline ie she needs to be forward & lifting her back … again this depends on both her & you being knowledgeable on the lunge.

Be very careful with your saddle fit - definitely shim, then reduce the degree of shim as she develops (the Mattes pad recommended by Kitt works well for this at they offer 2 depths of shims - Thinline does as well (I believe, at least they did in the past)).

Some horses build topline very easily, others much less so - even when on a supportive program, so be patient (if she’s never had good topline, it will be much slower to develop those muscles).

[QUOTE=alto;7198088]She’s lovely & she’s got nice butt muscles :lol:
definitely atrophied (maybe too strong a word but maybe not) through the topline or she may just have a “natural” swayback regardless of history.

Do you have a dressage coach/trainer to work with? though really any trainer that understands horse physiology/locomotion will be able to help you with targeted exercises :slight_smile: that will really help more than internet/videos/books.

If you find a good equine body worker, there are lots of stretches that will help her - again they will be targeted to her specifically so it’s worth the investment in someone hands-on.

You can definitely do the carrot stretches & tummy touches (she will lift her back when you get the right spot - though some horses will lift at any touch) BUT remember to only start with a few rep’s on each side as she will be using new muscles (you can increase the number daily though, just also palpate to track any soreness).

As she was in a hunter program for a year before having the summer off, don’t worry too much about starting s.l.o.w
She should be fine for WTC, transitions, poles etc - just all in moderation; e.g., just ride 20 - 30 min/day the first week.
You can also hand walk her to warm up/cool down, take her on an outing down the road etc in addition to riding.
If you’re able to go to the barn morning & evening, you could also lunge her
10 min /day - at the walk - to build topline ie she needs to be forward & lifting her back … again this depends on both her & you being knowledgeable on the lunge.

Be very careful with your saddle fit - definitely shim, then reduce the degree of shim as she develops (the Mattes pad recommended by Kitt works well for this at they offer 2 depths of shims - Thinline does as well (I believe, at least they did in the past)).

Some horses build topline very easily, others much less so - even when on a supportive program, so be patient (if she’s never had good topline, it will be much slower to develop those muscles).[/QUOTE]

Thanks for all the great advice everyone! I do have a dressage trainer I’m working with. We are number one on her board waiting list. I’m hoping once I get her moved to get her a solid 30 days with my trainer, who is obviously much more experienced than I am. I’m being very careful with her back and have ordered a Mattes correction pad (should be here Tuesday, super excited!). I will try the stretches and add some lunging to our work out. Because of class I can unfortunately only see her once a day, 5 days a week. :frowning:

http://www.youtube.com/edit?video_id=SYwMiyZHdSg&ns=1

Here is a video of a friend of mine riding Artemis today. The Mattes pad came early in the mail (YAY! I was so excited) so we put it on her and she already seems a little more relaxed. She’s also SUPER buddy sour so as soon as she’s up in the ring away from the boys she tends to tense up. You might be able to see at the end of the video but one of the boys was up there near her so she was more relaxed. And yes all her stuff is pink. She’s a pretty little girl and I may or may not have blown my paycheck at Dover on her…