Lunging Exercises to Build Topline

Building your horse’s topline is vital to achieving the greatest performance in your mount, however, it will require time, nutrition, and of course, a lot of practice until your horse’s back gets in shape.

So, in this post, we are sharing what is a topline and some lunging exercises you can do to help your horse build it!

What is Topline?  

Your horse’s topline is the long back muscle, which includes all the musculature that runs from the poll, down the horse’s neck, over the back, and into the hindquarters. When your horse is lifting his back and using his hind end, they are strengthening its topline.

Don’t know how to evaluate your horse’s topline? Click here to check out this interesting assessment from Nutrena.

Have a lunging training plan first

While riding is the perfect way to build muscle, you can’t always tell what muscle groups are being worked from in the saddle, and that’s why Lunging training is beneficial because you can see your horse’s topline as he/she moves, allowing you to view muscle-building overtime.

You and your horse can complete any different exercises to build its topline but first is essential that you 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.

The Use of 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 will encourage 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 of 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.

The Use of 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 its 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 place 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 horse’s 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 an even rhythm.  


In addition to exercise, nutrition plays a critical role in developing a horse’s topline. Like athletes, a horse’s muscles require protein and key amino acids to get in shape.

Watch this SmartPak Ask the Vet video below to learn more about the toplines and nutrition 👇