How do I Build my Horse’s Topline?

Have you ever looked at picture’s of other people’s horses and thought, “Dang, I wish my horse had a topline like that!” Maybe your horse has come off of winter with less strength than you wanted. Or you might have an older horse who needs to muscle up his back. Lunging training is a beneficial cross-exercise that helps to improve your horse’s topline.

What is a Topline?  

Your horse’s topline is the long back muscle. When your horse is lifting his back and using his hind end, like you see here, they are strengthening their topline.

You can use lunging as a cross-exercise for building muscle in your horse. While riding is a fantastic way to build muscle, you can’t always tell what muscle groups are being worked from in the saddle. Lunging training is beneficial because you can see your horse’s topline as he moves, allowing you to view muscle-building overtime.

You and your horse can complete any different exercises to build their topline. The most important part is to develop a lunging training plan so that you’re able to track your horse’s progress. Just like we would develop a plan for ourselves in a gym or an exercise class, your horse needs a long-term plan too!

Once you’ve developed your lunging training plan, you can practice these tips and tricks to build your horse’s topline: 

Use a Cavesson

It’s important to use a cavesson for lunging so you are able to keep your horse’s head in a straight line. A halter tends to pull your horse’s head in from one side or the other too far, whereas a cavesson pulls from the center of the nose. This encourages your horse to…

Stretch and Reach Down

Happy horses on a lunge line will often snort, loosen their lower lip, or – you guessed it – stretch down! Our horses don’t often have a way to naturally stretch their long back muscle, which is the main component in building their topline. Encourage your horse to reach into the stretch by praising him when he stretches down. You can also use encouragement with your voice and your body language to keep him in that stretch for as long as he is comfortable.

Gait Transitions

As you may know, transition work can be useful for building so many different muscles for your horse. On the lunge line, gait transitions can help improve balance and rhythm, two of the building blocks on the Pyramid of Training. They can also improve your horse’s topline by encouraging them to lift their hind end up and under. Use gait transitions while keeping an even rhythm, being sure they aren’t sucking back into the downward transition or leaping up into the upward. If your horse tends to race around the circle, you can start with just walk-trot transitions, until he feels more balanced.

Side Reins

We encourage the use of sliding side reins only during the working phase of the lunging session. Side reins should be loosely attached, giving your horse full freedom of movement with their head from side to side. When used properly, and for short periods of time, side reins encourage your horse into the right body position for self-carriage. Through the encouragement of self-carriage, your horse will build up his topline. 

Hind End Engagement

You can encourage your horse to step under himself. By helping your horse into a steady rhythm and being aware of balance issues like falling over the shoulder, your horse will be able to place his back feet into where his front feet fall. Using your whip, you can gently gesture to or nudge the inside hip, showing your horse where he might be off balance. By moving your horse to placing his feet more correctly, he is using his hind end and his back to balance, therefore building up that long back muscle that creates a beautiful topline.

Steady Rhythm

When our horses race around the circle or are going too slow, they are not able to build muscle in the same way. Using your voice, your body language, and your whip, it’s important to maintain your horse’s rhythm. Their trot should be a working trot, and their canter should be even and with regular footfall. By keeping your horse in a steady rhythm, you’re not only building up his Pyramid of Training, but you’re building up his topline by working his back with even rhythm.  

Building topline muscle takes time and practice. You will see an obvious difference in your horse’s musculature overtime if you commit to consistency and practice on the lunge line. Do you have questions about the Pyramid of Training, the lunging training plan, side reins, or how to use your body language to achieve this? Check out The Art of Lunging where we give you a comprehensive guide to this and more!