Developing Topline

Hey there,

I have a 12 year old thoroughbred who does not have the best confirmation. He has a ewe neck which makes it difficult for him to hold his head where I want it. I was just wondering if there’s anything I can do to help him build up his topline?

My mare came to me with a slight ewe neck in May.

Thankfully her’s was built by being worked incorrectly, with her head in the air like a giraffe for 2 years.

Consistent work which demands them to use themselves and their back will help. I did LOTS of trot work, trot poles, cavaletti, hills, uneven ground, etc.

I always ride her into the bridle and while she still hollows her back at times, I always take her over some trot poles or raised cavaletti to end the ride with her using herself.

I also recommend having your horse looked at by a chiropractor or massage-worker. I had my mare done and after having a lot of “out of whack” stuff readjusted, it was much easier for her to use her back and develop quite a bit of muscle over her back in a short time, which in turn helped her lower her head, which again in turn atrophied her ewe neck and has started to built up a nice crest.

Good Luck!

Chiropractor fan right here! They work miracles!:slight_smile:

I echo the previous posters, and will add that lots of long and low work should help improve the topline as well.

Big fan of long and low work either staying out of the tack or very lightly touching down in the tack. The easiest way to teach it is in a grass field where the horse wants to reach for the grass to eat. :slight_smile:

I do most of mine at the trot and canter in a ring though. Ask the horse to take your contact and then lengthen the reins to give a little bit. If they lose contact then ask them again and start lengthening the contact again. You want to encourage that feeling where they are reaching for the bit but not tipping their balance onto their forehand. For me I always know when I’m where I want to be because I start to feel the horses back round up underneath me and I suddenly need a lot more leg to support the hind end pushing forward and up. I love a double jointed happy mouth for this and no draw reins or anything. Soft, soft, soft… relaxed, long, low horse holding his own balance. Just heavenly!

Depending on how easily your horse will take and follow contact, long and low is ideal, preferably out of the arena. Most horses go better outside, and if you have hills to walk, and eventually trot, that’s a bonus.

You want to encourage him to go with a lower head, once you get that, you will have to teach him to accept a contact with it lowered, which may mean teaching him to ride more off the seat and leg.

Lots and lots and lots of correct flatwork (DRESSAGE), with an emphasis on CORRECT long and low. I’ve ridden few with ewe necks (usually much younger than 12), and all made big improvements with good flat work.

A ewe necked horse is used to balancing his body by using his neck.

I agree that long and low is the way to go, but IMO, the horse needs to learn to carry his weight farther back before dealing with his neck. Lots of hill work or raised cavaletti Start on the ground and slowly raise them to 9" – and you need at least 5 cavaletti to make this a good exercise. (If you do not have cavaletti, you can use standards, alternating L and R, with rails slowly being raised on one side and then the other. Go through in both directions so the horse develops both sides equally The horse will look at each cavaletti (= head down) while lifting his back and legs.

Then you can begin the PROPER dressage, mentioned above. Once he is stronger behind he will be more able to come up underneath himself and lower his head.

Trick is to never ask for something that is physically impossible for him to do. You will end up with a frustrated horse who begins to resent you. So the process takes a while to develop the entire horse, not just his neck.

Over the past 18 months my horse has been in almost weekly (correct) dressage training; I started riding him about 6 months ago. He was ewe-necked and older and hadn’t really been ridden in over 2 years.

It has been slow work. And the trainer I have is amazing. He made major gains every single ride, but it was only once a week due to time and money. After 6 months I could sense minor changes in his body. After about a year I could definitively see the difference in his muscling and now 18 months later he is at a point in his training where he can reliably use his back come up underneath at all 3 gaits.

At almost 20 years old he is the happiest and healthiest he has been in his entire life. He looks so good, like a real horse, with strong shoulders and a (relatively) cresty neck and a broad back and a muscled butt!

We never used draw reins, we put him in a super fat loose ring, and it’s purely from the correct dressage techniques my trainer used that he has come this far. And her patience. Oh, her patience was key. She first had to convince him he was capable of say, moving laterally off her leg, or bending to the inside, or that contact with the bit was NOT her pulling on him.

He would lock up and not even try to do what she was asking. I’m assuming he assumed he couldn’t do it, because he never had done it, and yes it was hard and maybe even hurt a little (tight muscles stretching will do that). But as she helped him realized that she was asking for reasonable things, he started to grow quickly and kept trying (though it was very. slow. going.). Now he volunteers to stretch his neck and back at the end of a ride (or when he thinks it’s time for the end of a ride), going long and low and with a lovely pace and a nice step underneath himself.

Truly, the mental game is just as important as the physical one in some of these. He used to evade her riding by trying to take off when things got hard or he was off balance (so… like all the time). And pulling stressed him out more. I remember the first time that taking off wasn’t his go to “I’m confused” response- we both got a little teary eyed when instead of taking off he just kinda came to a stop as if he was suggesting “Hey, I need to regroup a minute”.

I digress, though.

The point is, be very very patient, and get someone very very correct to work with you. I wish I had before/after with this horse, because it’s almost like a miracle. If you had told me even 2 years ago that my horse could go like he does now… I wouldn’t have believed you.

I don’t have experience with ewe-necked horses, but I do have a rehabilitated giraffe. :slight_smile: My horse is built to carry his head high and went that way until about the age of 18, when he started doing equine yoga. (You can teach an old dog new tricks.)

Start with a chiropractor or other bodywork professional recommended by your vet to rule out other physical concerns that may be impacting your horse’s way of going.

Then, I agree with Lord Helpus- start with building up the back end. That means a working walk and trot up hills and slopes and cavaletti in the ring, progressing to raised cavaletti. Please note that this is the working walk, with the horse moving forward with a regular rhythm from behind, engaging the hind end- not the “molasses backwards up the side of an iceberg” type of walk my horse prefers.

I am a big fan of stretching the horse on the ground to develop muscle tone and highly recommend belly lifts. Before you tack up and after you get off, scratch or tickle (gently!) the horse’s underline, behind where the girth would be. The horse should engage the abdominal and back muscles and lift the belly. You want the horse to hold this for 10 seconds. Your mileage may vary if your horse has sensitive skin. In theory, the act of cow kicking you would also develop the hind end, but this is probably not the way you want to go about it.

You need to build the back end first so that your horse has an engine from which to propel his energy forward through his spine- he can’t go forward into the bridle if he has nothing to push him forward in the first place. Once I like where the hind end is, I progress on the horse’s carriage with a lot of changes of bend at the working gaits, encouraging the horse to propel himself forward, continue moving his energy forward while suppling the body through left and right bend, and finally accept and hold the bit in contact. During this stage, I consider any animal who roots the bit in an effort to get out of work to be pretty much doing exactly what I want him to do, which is take the bit down and forward. Add leg.

Remember that you’re resculpting your horse’s muscle tone and that your horse will hit a point of soreness where you will be best served backing off the work. For my horse this is usually 2-3 weeks after I start ramping up the exercise- he becomes body sore. I then spend another 5 days to a week just hacking out at the working walk, sometimes with the addition of a day or two on Robaxin. The horse should continue to exercise at this point (to avoid lactic acid buildup and stretch the muscles) but it shouldn’t be strenuous.

Agree on having a chiropractor or masseuse check him over (first) and am a huge fan of hill work which does wonders for every animal.
Some people use neck stretchers, chambons or draw reigns.