Thursday, January 28, 2010

Horse Health Care: Three Ways to Build a Horse's Topline

Does your horse have a weak topline?

Some horses just have conformation that promotes a weak topline.

Whether your horse is swaybacked or loses his topline when he isn't in training, a weak topline is never pretty.

Luckily, there are three simple ways that you can help any horse build a stronger, better-looking topline.

#1: Build Your Horse's Topline with Backing
When your horse walks backwards, he has to engage the muscles in his back and hindquarters, especially if he lowers his head while backing. Teaching your horse to back with his head down is a valuable time investment for two reasons:

1. It increases his topline
2. It puts him in a relaxed state because horses relax when their heads are low

At first, your horse may only want to back with his head up high. You may have to spend some time in the beginning teaching him to back with his head down low. Sometimes holding a treat down low can encourage your horse to drop his head.

I sometimes break the exercise into two pieces: dropping the head and backing. To teach my horse to lower his head, I crouch down low and gently tug on the lead rope. Most horses are curious enough to drop their heads and see what I'm doing. I reward that action with a treat. Next, I get teach him to lower his head while I'm standing up, again using a treat as a reward. Finally, I teach him to keep his head low while backing.

This may take several days, as some horses actually don't know how to engage the correct muscles to back with their head low. At first, one of my horses could only take a step or two backward with his head in the correct position. It took several days before he could engage the correct muscles and back 10 steps or more.

Once your horse has learned to back with his head dropped, back him every day for 100 steps. This exercise will build the muscles in his topline, including his neck, back, and hindquarters. The results are actually surprisingly quick. You should see a difference in 2 weeks or so.

#2: Feed Your Horse on the Ground and Use Ground Toys
If you feed your horse in hanging bucket or manger, this may be contributing to his poor topline. To build a strong topline, horses need to stretch the muscles and ligaments in their topline. Feeding them on the ground will definitely help. In addition, consider using a ground toy that dispenses feed. There are a lot of options on the market, including the Nose-It, the Likit Snak-A-Ball, and the Amazing Graze toy.

These toys all roll around on the ground, which encourages your horse to keep his head down for long periods of time, thus stretching his topline muscles. When these muscles are stretched, they develop mass more easily.

I've used all three of the toys mentioned above, plus a few others that are no longer on the market. They work well because the slow dispensing of feed keeps your horse interested for longer than a non-food toy. It also keeps him engaged for longer than his normal hay or grain allotment.

One additional benefit is that having your horse stretch his topline is that this prevents his withers from "getting stuck," which is the case in a lot of horses that are "built downhill." They are not actually built that way, but their withers are stuck so they look downhill. Once their withers are released, they will have a more balanced-looking topline.

#3: Feed Raw Coconut Oil
This works well for horses who are fat all over except over their topline. For some reason, the calories from raw coconut oil go to a horse's topline. Most horses that have this problem of being fat but having no topline have a Shao Yin personality type. These horses can be absolute pudges, yet look swaybacked and ewe-necked. So it's coconut oil to the rescue. If you have this kind of horse, here are the three resources you need:

- Get raw coconut oil here
- Learn more about Shao Yin and other horse personality types here
- Type your horse's personality online for free here if you are not sure about his type

For those of you out there with topline-challenged horses, I hope these recommendations help. They have certainly helped my two horses who have this issue, even during the winter, when they are not in training. Hope these tips help your horse, too!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

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