How to Improve Your Horse's Topline

A desirable topline takes the appearance of a slightly arched neck and strong back.
A desirable topline takes the appearance of a slightly arched neck and strong back. (Image: horse image by Colin Buckland from

Getting a great topline on your horse is done gradually, much as you would build your own muscles through an exercise program. The topline is the muscle structure that stretches from the poll, which lies between the horse's ears, to the top of the tail. These muscles determine not only how the horse carries and supports its own structure, but also how the horse looks naturally and while performing. A great topline is coveted by any knowledgeable horse-person.

Things You'll Need

  • Halter
  • Long line

Put the horse on a long line and work it in circles around you at the trot and canter, allowing 15 to 20 feet of line at a minimum; this makes a 30- to 40-foot circle. Allowing this extra room gives the horse a chance to feel its body and concentrate on its carriage. Freedom of movement is essential. Work for equal time to left and right, or clockwise and counterclockwise, as each develops a separate side of the spine.

Ride a horse with a developing topline at a walk on a loose rein to encourage freedom of movement through the back and hindquarters. When trotting, post (rise out of the saddle at the point when your seat would otherwise hit the saddle) to avoid hammering its back with your weight. At the canter, ride in the two-point position used by people who jump horses, riding poised slightly over the horse's neck to keep your weight off the horse's spine.

Encourage the horse to collect itself while you ride by asking for a lower head position and rear impulsion. When asked to put its head down, the back legs are forced to work under the horse and push it forward, bowing the back and developing a strong and attractive topline.

Feed your horse well. Balancing your horse's nutrition so it gets a complete feed with plenty of fat, fiber and protein in the proper amounts encourages muscle development and growth, especially during training.

Tips & Warnings

  • Give young horses as much turnout as possible so they can naturally begin developing a great topline by running and playing with their pasture mates.
  • Do not start training young horses too early to avoid topline problems down the road. Beginning no earlier than four years old is advised, according to Sarah Geike.

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