Building topline muscle and dealing with topline loss is a common struggle for horse owners.

Your horse may have a weak topline due to a variety of factors including nutrition and exercise. Physiological factors such as age or underlying health conditions can also affect topline muscle.

With the right feeding plan, exercise program, and lifestyle, you can help your horse build muscle mass and strength. Topline muscles are not only appealing to look at, but they also enhance mobility and improve overall fitness and longevity.

Topline loss often coincides with other issues that need to be properly managed. Careful examination of the horse’s daily routine and health background can help identify the underlying cause of muscle loss.

Horses with metabolic disorders such as PSSM or Cushing’s require specific approaches for supporting muscle development. Horses with gut issues and senior horses may also require special care.

We can help you develop a nutrition and management program that supports the development of healthy muscle. You can submit your horse’s diet for a free analysis by our equine nutritionists and they can give you personalized suggestions for building a better topline.

What are Topline Muscles?

The topline muscles in the horse run along the vertebral column and include the withers, back, loin and croup.

The major muscles in these areas are the Latissimus Dorsi, Longissimus Dorsi and Trapezius muscles.

In a healthy horse, the topline muscles will feel smooth and flat, and the body should appear well-rounded without excessive fat deposition.

How to Improve Your Horse's Topline | Mad Barn Canada's Topline

Signs and Causes of Poor Topline

You can assess your horse’s topline condition by looking at the withers, back, loin and croup areas one at a time. If any of these areas appear sunken-in or concave, that means that there is a lack of muscle.

Overweight horses may appear to have ideal topline muscling on first observation, but subcutaneous fat will be covering the muscles.

Feeling the areas to distinguish between fat and lean tissue is helpful for accurate body condition scoring. Muscle will feel firm, whereas fat will feel spongy.

A lack of topline muscling in your horse can be attributed to many different factors, such as:

  • Poor nutrition or lack of dietary protein
  • Atrophy associated with reduced exercise or muscle engagement
  • Old age
  • Lameness
  • Incorrect saddle fit
  • Musculoskeletal issues such as polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM)
  • Endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s disease or pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID)
  • Overriding dorsal spinous processes (or kissing spines)
  • Gastric ulcers or other digestive issues

If your horse is losing muscle or has struggled to attain adequate topline, these factors should be carefully evaluated by a qualified equine professional including your nutritionist or veterinarian.

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