Horse with poor topline...am I being impatient? What type of saddle pad will be best?

Hi all, I’m new here and I am desperately needing advice on how to build up my latest horse’s topline.

His background:
“Casper”, 9 yo quarter horse gelding, came to me underweight, wormy, and covered in cuts from getting tangled in barbed wire, he was “pastured” in a small wooded area. He was getting four “flakes” of mixed bahia/bermuda hay daily and 1/2 scoop of 10% sweet feed, only ridden about once a month (in an ill fitting saddle)

“Casper” has been with me over three months now and has gained almost 100 pounds. He is on bahai grass pasture 24/7, getting 4 pounds of Nutrena Safe Choice (14%) a day, and I am supplementing him with TriAmino Acids, Source, and he also has access to mineral salts “free choice”. He has also been dewormed with SafeGuard. I am going to deworm him with Equimax soon. He has been in slow, steady work…walking/trotting the trails for 15-30 min a day/4 times a week.

One thing I will add, he is disabled (completely blind in his left eye and has been that way for at least 5 years)

Several questions here: Will his topline ever come back? Am I on the right track? What type of saddle pad (Western) will keep him the most comfortable until he fills out?

Thanks in advance for any advice guy and gals! :slight_smile:

He needs more protein, most likely. Try Ultium Competition or even Ultium Growth, if you have those available near you. Not all Purina dealers carry those two, but they are not scary high in sugar/starch the way the Omolenes are, and have a goodly amount of fat. If Nutrena is all you can find where you are, try their new Safe Choice Perform line.
http://www.nutrenaworld.com/products/horses/safe-choice/safechoice-perform-horse-feed/index.jsp
http://horse.purinamills.com/products/ultium/ecmd2-0032693.aspx
http://horse.purinamills.com/products/ultium/ECMD2-0032694.aspx

Agree with sdlbredfan about protein. To build muscle, they need protein and plenty of it.

Back in April, I got a 7yo mare (NOT in horrible condition) who was a bit thin, no muscle, wormy and teeth in need of doing. I took care of the worms and teeth right away, re-checked with a fecal for the worms a couple of weeks later, de-wormed again, did another fecal and she was then as close to no worm load as possible.

In terms of feed, I threw the protein at her with alfalfa cubes and a ration balancer along with her regular feed. For extra calories, I feed dry fat. I also feed magnesium to help with muscle building (and to take the edge off her high energy personality lol) so you could look that up. It may help your horse, but it sure isn’t a cheap fix unfortunately.

Work wise, at first my horse just needed to build a little muscle all round so she’d be comfortable working. Gradually, as she got stronger, I asked her to come deeper with her neck (rounded neck with ears at or below withers height) to ‘force’ her to use her abdominals so that she’d build soft, supple topline muscles instead of tight tense muscles. Not quite 6 months in from her original and unbroke condition (so first 6 weeks of work was very limited!) she actually looks like a sport horse in good muscle with a topline that is strengthening properly and abs that are building to support the topline.

I’m not sure about what type of western pad/s you might need but you want to pad that saddle up enough that it’s sitting comfortably and not pressing down on his spine anywhere. As your horse builds muscle, remove pads or change thickness of pad as necessary to keep the saddle from pinching. My girl has gone up almost 2 gullet sizes in under 6 months so you need to be vigilant about checking saddle fit!

Good luck!

I would swap the SC for the SC Special Care - less sugar.

4lb of the SC at 14% is giving him about 250gm protein. If the grass is 8% protein, which is pretty low, and if he’s eating the equivalent of 15lb of dry matter, that’s 545gm protein. Combined, that’s 795gm protein, and that’s quite enough for an 1100lb horse in this work.

What could more easily be missing is enough lysine, but assuming 1 scoop of the T-A, that’s 10gm, and that’s nearly guaranteed to be filling any hole there.

It might be worth testing the pasture to see what the protein content is. If it’s down to 6%, that’s 408gm protein (again, assuming 15lb worth of dry matter) then he could be borderline deficient in total protein. But if he’s chowing down at 20lb dry matter that’s back up to 545gm protein.

That’s just to put things into perspective. Deficiency in total protein, especially with 200gm+ from hard feed, isn’t really that common, as it’s not common for forage to be so stinkin’ low in protein (it can happen!).

Do you have a picture? How long has he been in work? 4 days of 15-30 minutes w/t is not really a lot of work at all, hardly anything, and not really working towards significant muscle development.

I looked up a series of topline exercises on here (searched in dressage forum) not too long ago to help my Cushingoid old man and a friend’s mare with the oops foal that dragged her condition down, especially on the topline. They operate on the theory as outlined above, getting the horse to lower its head and lift through the stomach - skip draw reins and tie downs or other forcible methods.

One exercise was backing up. The halter people do it all the time to build that big butt. Start with a few steps and build to about 15, add a bit of an uphill, like that.

Next was the use of cavaletti/trot poles. They have to be spaced for the individual horse to get the best effect and you start with them on the ground, then raise them to about 6 inches over time and as they get more competent with their feet. They’ll lower their heads naturally and lift their stomachs as they raise their legs. In jumping exercises spacing is changed up a lot to develop stride length, the ability to compress and extend the stride, and the “eye”, it’s good exercise and good for the horse even if jumping isn’t in your plan.

Hill work. I told my friend this one was perfect for her mare - walk her up to the top of their hill, about a quarter of a mile, let her graze in the less used pasture up there during her grazing time, do it twice a day.

I don’t know if I can ever get the topline back on the old guy because as I understand it his Cushing’s tends to affect his ability to properly absorb and utilize protein, causing wasting, but the exercises are all potentially of benefit just to improve his flexibility and ROM.

ETA, these were all selected as methods that didn’t use too many calories/benefit to topline, so mostly softly walking and trotting, relaxed and controlled backing, medium walk uphill. good luck!

Thanks everyone for the replies! Sascha & sdlbredfan…it sounds like he definitely needs more protein. Thank you for providing those helpful links. This is my first experience with this type of issue. I will check at our local farm supply for alfalfa cubes too. I hope to get him to a point where he no longer has to be “grained” just fed a nice ration balancer in addition to forage/bermuda mix hay. I had him on Omolene 300 (a friend highly recommended it) and his behavior changed from being mellow and willing to being hard headed, wide eyed, and wanting to run everywhere we went. He was like a child on a sugar high! I recently (two weeks ago) switched him to Safe Choice. JB, I will definitely check into Safe Choice Special Care in my area…less sugar is a wonderful thing for my guy. Since it is finally cooling off here in central MS, Casper is going to be worked longer and more often in the evenings. I have several pictures, but can’t post attachments. I would love for y’all to see him. A picture is worth a thousand words! I’m not too computer savvy, but if there’s a site I could join, add the pics and then post a link to it for you guys, can someone tell me? Thanks everyone! :wink:

To ReSomething:
Those exercises are very doable…right here at home too. Trot poles…hadn’t even thought about that. Thank you and good luck with your horse as well.

You can join imageshack.us for free for picture hosting.

Photobucket, flicker, snapfish. If you have a Facebook account and create a specific album I THINK it will still let you make that album public without compromising your other privacy settings. I know I have one set for one person only to see, I did have to friend her on FB. I take a set of photos about every month (not great ones) and she lets me know if his weight gain is apparent etc.

Got it! The views from the top aren’t the best…I was perched on the side of a panel…and he wasn’t standing very square. Try this:

http://s1288.photobucket.com/user/lindsi_jo/library/

He’s still a bit thin and he’s not going to develop much of a topline until he fills in with “weight”.

Has a chiro looked at him?

I have not had a chiro out…they are few and far between here in MS. Its very difficult to get one out for one horse as well. I’m planning on getting my equine dentist out to check his teeth next week. I’m pretty sure they have never had any attention. He isn’t too thin to be riding, is he?

In addition to the other advice – all good – make sure you are riding a saddle that fits him well enough so that he is comfortable using his back. Keep in mind that a saddle that fits him now won’t fit him when he fills out. So if your saddle is a bit wide, a good pad will help. If the saddle pinches him or sits on his spine, he will not be able to engage his abdominal muscles and lift his back.

Good luck with him!

I would get to the Equimax now.

In addition to the suggestions above, think about out-of-the-tack exercises also. Over the summer I was able to get my horse’s topline up significantly through a combination of focused exercise under saddle (a strong working walk with a relaxed spine and head and neck gesture, working into bend and counter-bend)… but the real key, I think, was the stretching program I started on the ground. Particularly, belly lifts and rump tucks helped reshape and redevelop his musculature. Five minutes of stretching once or twice a day, done consistently. No well-fitting saddle needed. :slight_smile:

One lesson barn I was riding at wouldn’t have had a problem putting him in the program in that condition. Your boy reminds me of one of their OTQH. Sort of gangly but he had a ton of potential, very willing.

I can’t tell his size in general. Tape him and if you and the tack are more than 20% of that then VERY light riding or groundwork till he’s got some muscles up there.

Renn can you elaborate on those? Belly lift I think I know, tickle or prod the belly so they “lift” their backs - but a rump tuck?

Not too thin to be riding, IMHO, but saddle fit with appropriate padding IS super critical right now.

Agreed! Bought it…giving it to him Sat. I’ve never had a horse colic with Equimax, but I still want to be around a day or two after I dose him.

Understood about saddle fit, Bogie and JB. I’ve found a nice looking Circle Y built up pad that I’ve ordered. I have a saddle that fits him ok…wither clearance is good and it doesn’t appear to be rubbing his spine. I definitely am waiting til I get the built up pad in before I ride again…I think it’s just what he needs right now. Even my semi quarter horse bar saddle sits a little lower in front than I would like.

ReSomething, I will tape him and see what I find out. I’m not good at “eyeballing” a horse’s height. I was told he was 16hh, but he doesn’t seem quite that tall to me. Poor boy, the guy I got him from was over 250 pounds and was riding him bareback or in an old saddle that IMO was way too wide. Thank goodness he didn’t ride him too often, or I’d be dealing with wither sores too!

Renn, those exercises sound interesting, but foreign to me. Can you explain them? Thank you!

Y’all have been so helpful! :slight_smile: