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Building a top line from the ground

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  • Building a top line from the ground

    Hi everyone,

    Looking for some great ideas on building my horses topline... but from the ground.

    It's a very long story but essentially he hasn't been ridden for 3 years or so and I haven't ridden in even longer... I have finally moved jobs and can make decent time for him (and myself) again! We both competed together in our younger days.

    I'm older now and hesitant to get back on for a while, at least until I've managed to get myself on a lesson horse and built up my muscles and confidence.

    In the interim I want to start groundwork with him and get him in the best shape possible from the ground. I went to Dover and bought all sorts of equipment including a surcingle, side reins, long reins, etc.

    I absolutely plan on working with a trainer but he isn't even in shape yet to be worth a trainer hopping on. Plus almost most importantly he is a super tense horse, so hopping on him sooner than he is ready would just set us back even further.

    His tenseness and nervousness have always been difficult, so ensuring a proper start is really my aim. Just to clarify, he is not in pain and has been cleared for riding as of last week's vet check.

    Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for reading

  • #2
    Walk. Walk everywhere. It doesn't even need to be in a surcingle or side reins. Get a halter on him and go for a walk - added bonus if you can add in some terrain (hills, etc) to vary it up. You mention that he can be nervous and tense - I'm uncertain if that manifests with him lifting his head up? But especially if it does, just hand walking can be a tremendous way to introduce some concept of "work" in a gentle, stress-free environment. Ideally you want to be walking at a pace that would be a human "power walk" (horse is marching, stepping through from behind) and as they become more familiar with it, they relax and soften over their topline and drop their head. (Some will do this naturally, but others may not, due to disposition.) I also really like this because it can be a great way to get out of the arena, and expose both horse and rider to different environments in a calm fashion.

    If you're not in a position to walk on trails or over property, you can do some in-hand work over cavaletti on the ground, although I would definitely be aware of how to start slowly (thought it sounds as if that's not a necessary warning for you, as it seems you're intending to start slowly and methodically!) as with horses who are lacking in muscle tone, too many cavaletti in sequence, or too complicated of a question can end up overfacing them, physically.


    • #3
      You can longe, just start off slow, and for very short periods of time. like 5 min on each rein.
      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


      • #4
        Once he's lunging more regularly using a band system like Equiband/Equicore can really make a difference. You can also make your own with PT band material if you sacrifice a saddlepad or 2.

        If you are really good a long lining, you can achieve the same effect that the horse always goes in a correct frame for his fitness, but for those of us who struggle get the job done without strangling anything, the bands can be a very good tool. Because they don't touch his mouth the way a running rein, chambon etc do, it works the core and hind end muscles without worrying about doing the wrong thing with the bit.


        • #5
          Google "dressage in hand". There are a ton of videos that show basic groundwork that will help your horse develop correct musculature, balance, and relaxation. Most of them are essentially asking your horse to leg yield away from you at the walk, stepping their inside hind leg (the one closest to you) under their body. This should cause them to start to drop their pole, relax their jaw, and eventually start to bring their back up. It's simple, easy, and for an anxious horse can be quite relaxing once they understand how to respond. It'll be a good in hand warm up for riding as well. Congrats on getting your horse time back!


          • Original Poster

            Thanks so much for your ideas everyone! I truly appreciate it.

            We've started walking together, every day around the trails behind the barn - it's great bonding time and exercise for us both. I'll start longing him shortly!

            I'm looking into the Equicore band now - going to start saving up, thanks for the suggestion! Seems perfect for what we're in need of right now.

            The Dressage in Hand videos are awesome from what I've seen so far - I was just thinking about doing those sorts of things this evening but didn't know how to get started... perfect timing


            • #7
              Originally posted by Tazman09 View Post
              I'm older now and hesitant to get back on for a while, at least until I've managed to get myself on a lesson horse and built up my muscles and confidence...

              ...His tenseness and nervousness have always been difficult, so ensuring a proper start is really my aim.
              It doesn't sound at all like you and your horse are a match anymore. It happens. I believe there is a point where as we age we really need to start considering and possibly changing the types of horses we ride--regardless of how accomplished we've been in the past. The fact the you are "hesitant" is a great big clue. This may very well be more than just finding a temporary lesson horse.

              I will say that if you really want to get yourself fit to ride again I would highly, highly recommend you get thy self to the gym and get under the rack: squats, deadlifts, presses. Whole body exercises that you do while standing on your own two feet. Nothing I've ever done (including but not limited to yoga, pilates, biking, spinning, swimming, aerobics) comes anywhere close to the increase in confidence I've found in the saddle from the strength gains due to lifting heavy weights. I'm not sure what you define as "older," but I'm 54, and I don't ride the nervous tense ones anymore even though at one time it was my favorite kind of ride! I would have killed to understand 25 years ago what I understand today about how physical strength in the major muscle groups promotes confidence in the saddle.


              • #8
                I love in hand work. You can do most of the lateral moves from the ground at the walk. It's fascinating to watch see your horse understand your body language means leg yield or shoulder-in, etc. They literally imitate your steps. You can builds tons of top line just doing a medium walk on the bit from the ground.
                "Do what you can't do"