A strong topline is important to the overall appearance of a healthy horse and is crucial for performance and longevity. Topline can totally change the conformation of a horse from hollow and weak to strong and bold. Some horses are born with it and others just aren't and will never have a strong topline (wrong). This is a common misconception, luckily there are methods to help build topline on horses, beginning with the right diet. It's true that genetics help but here at Horse Guard we have experienced first hand how to build topline by supplementing your horses diet with Horse Guard supplements.
In this article, we will break down the science behind building a strong topline in horses with nutrition. You’ll learn how different macros impact your horse’s physique and find out which nutrients are essential for healthy muscle growth when building a strong topline.
What Is a Horse’s Topline?
A topline is the full muscular build-up from a horse’s withers to the base of its tail. It’s a great indicator of overall horse health, fitness, and strength. A strong topline is usually associated with racehorses in training, performance horses, and athletic horses that are meant to be ridden. A horse’s topline is built by the muscles of their neck, back, and hind legs. Strong topline muscles can improve your horse’s carriage, hind end, and their movement.
With a strong topline, your horse will carry themselves better and have an easier time performing the job they are used to do. A fuller topline is the first sign of a more athletic horse and is also a sign of a healthy horse. It is the first place to look to see if a horse is gaining weight or muscle, or losing weight and muscle
Why is Strong Topline Important?
A strong topline is a general indicator of your horse’s health and fitness. A strong topline can help reduce joint pressure, distribute weight better, and improve overall horse posture. These muscles encourage the horse to engage its hind end and core and properly use their back during a variety of different types of work. Horses with a weak topline can often be seen being ridden with their back inverted or their back “hollow”. With a strong topline, your horse will be able to move with ease, making him more competitive, resilient, and comfortable in the long run.
How to Build a Strong Topline with Nutrition?
A horse’s topline is made up of muscles. Muscles need the right fuel and nutrients to grow and a well-balanced diet can help provide this. Building a strong topline with nutrition management requires a strategic approach. Incorporating the right macronutrients, feeding for your horse’s individual needs, using supplements, and Incorporating strength exercises.
Incorporating the right macronutrients
Macronutrients are the main types of nutrients found in feed, such as fat, protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Their purpose is to provide energy and sustain your horse’s body’s functionality. Feeding the right macronutrient ratio provides them with the right amount of energy.
Which macronutrient ratio works best for building a strong topline?
a diet that includes both protein and fat is the best combo for filling out the topline and building up muscle. While carbohydrates are a source of energy they offer short-term energy storage bursts, which isn’t ideal for long-term muscle development. Building a strong topline with a protein-to-fat ratio with a low-carb diet allows for steady growth, weight maintenance, and steady energy levels.
Feeding For Your Horse’s Individual Needs
Just like people, horses have different nutritional needs. Horses have different metabolisms, ages, exercise levels, and body types. These factors impact your horse’s nutrient requirements.
For example, your young horse that is in light exercise will likely have different nutritional needs than your older, more mature horse that is in heavy work. Your older, more mature horse will likely need different nutrients to help sustain his health and fitness. Younger horses are generally doing more growing and need a different amount of energy. The discipline can even play a role in the type of energy needed, a racehorse needs protein for muscle development and carbohydrates for short-term energy bursts for workouts, whereas a dressage horse needs protein for muscle development and fat for long-term weight management and low carbohydrates. Feeding customized nutrition ensures your horse has the optimal blend of nutrients for their health and fitness level.
Supplements are often overlooked when feeding horses. But feeding the right supplements for your horse’s health and fitness can help boost their metabolic rate and build muscle. Some supplements are designed to help promote muscle growth and weight gain. Others help build and repair muscle tissue like Eas-E Guard, improve metabolism like Gut Guard, and increase overall energy like Glow. Supplements often get missed because ration balancers contain very little amount of important vitamins and minerals, and due to the dosage your horse may not be meeting their requirements. The majority of horses are not getting everything they need to maintain their fitness from forage or grain alone, and that likelihood increases, if that horse is expected to perform at a high level, which is why supplementing important nutrients, is crucial. Ingredients like Vitamin E for muscle recovery, Selenium for immunity, and in the case of topline - Lysine, the first limiting Amino Acid in horses which can be found in our products that include full fat extruded soybeans.
Incorporating Strength Exercises
Nutrition plays a huge role in creating a healthy topline but it’s not the only thing, activity is a large piece of the puzzle. Exercises like transitions, walk to trot, trot to halt, and canter or lope transitions activate your horse’s hind end and ask them to engage through their core and back. Hill work, or riding on a slight incline is one of the best ways to help build the topline. If your horse is older or recovering from an injury, even keeping them in a pasture with a gradient can help encourage topline development.
Consider The Whole Diet When It Comes to Building Topline
Forage is 80% of the horse’s diet, which means it is worth it to evaluate the type of forage you are providing. We recommend allowing access to forage 24/7 as horses were designed to continually graze throughout the day instead of being meal fed. If you have a horse that isn’t able to have forage in front of them, consider a slow feeder to help spread out the time between meals. Generally, horses who need help building toplines are harder keepers or have a demanding workload. High-quality forage with higher crude protein. Feeding alfalfa is another way to provide protein through forage, it is also high in Calcium which buffers the horse’s stomach- like nature's tums. If you are feeding low-quality hay or small meals of hay, your horse may be lacking the energy and protein for muscle growth.
What Supplements Do We Suggest For Building Topline
Super Weight Gain (our most recommended)-Super Weight Gain would provide him with a high-quality protein, in addition to a great vitamin-mineral supplement which will aid in producing muscle mass over his topline. Plus it includes a full dose of our multivitamin Horse Guard, and pro and prebiotics to help increase digestibility and nutrient absorption.
Glow- Glow is 50% full fat extruded soybeans and 50% ground flax cake which with no added vitamins and minerals so it can be fed as needed from 8 oz or up to a 1lb. It is a great way to provide fat and protein.
Flow- Is 100% flaxseed oil that is nitrogen sealed to deliver a high fat source with amazing benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Complete Multivitamin- In addition to fat and protein, for your horse to build muscle the rest of the body needs to function well which is why we recommend providing a multivitamin that includes the trace minerals and vitamins they aren’t able to get from hay alone. Super Weight Gain includes a multivitamin but check out our line of complete multivitamins that includes Horse Guard,Mega Dose, and Trifecta 4 in 1 (our go to for performance horses).
A strong topline is a sign of a healthy horse, but getting there isn’t always as cut and dry as other nutritional issues. Building a strong topline requires careful attention to your horse’s diet and proper feeding management. Incorporating quality forage, cool energy in the form of protein and fat, and exercises to engage the horse’s back muscles are key to getting your horse’s topline dialed in. If you still have questions about how you can better improve your horse’s topline, reach out to us! Ask our nutritionist here!