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Building up a topline

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  • Building up a topline

    So new maresy is lacking a good bit of muscle all over, but definitely needs work on her topline. I am starting work in side reins on the lunge, but she's never been in them before, so it's going to take a little while before they're actually short enough to do anything.

    What other sorts of things can I do to get her buff? This is a 5 year old TB, with a tiny bit of race training but has been a pasture puff for several months. She doesn't know enough to round up and go on the bit yet; we're working on that too. Right now we're concentrating on installing power steering, and learning to move off/away from my leg, bending, stuff like that. Her new career will be in the hunter ring. Oh, and hill work is not an option, since hills are nonexistent where I live.

    Are there any supplements that help? I'm not looking replace work with supplements, but if there's anything that could help us along, I'd consider it.


  • #2
    I am HUGE HUGE fan of handwalking unfit horses. Let them stretch down and out, and you'll build topline. I do think longing in side reins is valuable, but I hate locking an unfit horse into any sort of frame. I let side reins suggest but never demand a frame. Be sure you're attaching them low enough so she can really stretch DOWN comfortably. I see a lot of side reins set way too high on young horses.

    Plenty of protein and fat will help build muscle. My horse gets a hell of a lot of 14% protein grain while she's in work (10-12 pounds a day in the winter--she's quite the hard keeper) and anywhere from 4-16 oz of oil per day, depending on what she'll eat. I noticed a huge difference in her muscling when I changed her from an 11% protein grain and another huge difference when I added oil.


    • Original Poster

      Thanks for the tips.

      Side reins are definitely low, as I'm going for that hunter long-n-low frame, even though there's no frame as of yet...we're still at the loopy side rein stage. There's no restriction at all. I don't like tight side reins either; I like to have them adjusted so that when the head is in the right place, the reins are loose.

      I was also thinking about changing from a 12% to a 14% feed. She's supposed to be a very easy keeper, so right now she's eating less than her munchkin QH pasturemates. She's 16.2h and they are 15.3h and 14h.

      I had been feeding BOSS, but just ran out, and was thinking of switching to flax seed instead. I'd prefer not to add anything that will make her hot, since she has a bit of a nervous personality to begin with. I probably could add a little bit of oil, though.


      • #4
        Throw away the side reins and ride her correctly back to front. First she MUST come forward off your leg and carry herself, then you can begin to ask her to come on the bit. I would suggest some lower level dressage.


        • Original Poster

          Sorry, when I say going on the bit that's what I mean...she's learning how to move forward off my leg and power up from behind. I wasn't talking about headset only and falling apart in the back. First we must learn to go forward before we can really go on the bit. I should have said what I meant.

          We are doing only flatwork at this point. She's doing decent turns on the forehand, and we've started a step or two of leg yielding at a time. I'm a big believer in dressage work. I'm sure it would make a real dressage rider gag, but yeah, I do lots of flatwork.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Seven-up View Post
            I am starting work in side reins on the lunge, but she's never been in them before, so it's going to take a little while before they're actually short enough to do anything.
            What goal do you have by having them on, and so long? Just curious.

            Right now we're concentrating on installing power steering, and learning to move off/away from my leg, bending, stuff like that.
            I would keep side reins totally out of the picture until you have those things accomplished, at least to an elementary level. She needs to not feel restricted if she's going to learn to go forward, bend, etc, in your groundwork (which is where it starts, not u/s ) Use your groundwork to teach her about bending softly, about moving body parts (which is a pre-requisite for bending softly), for moving forward instantly and smartly when you ask, etc. Only when she's all that on the ground would you use sidereins.

            Oh, and hill work is not an option, since hills are nonexistent where I live.
            That's what poles are for

            Are there any supplements that help? I'm not looking replace work with supplements, but if there's anything that could help us along, I'd consider it.

            You DO need to make sure she's got enough quality protein in her diet. This means lysine and methionine, which are generally lacking in a grass/grass hay diet.
            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


            • #7
              Originally posted by Seven-up View Post
              I don't like tight side reins either; I like to have them adjusted so that when the head is in the right place, the reins are loose.
              The purpose of side reins is to provide the contact that your hands would otherwise be taking. To "frame" a horse, there has to be a "door" in front so the energy generated from behind doesn't go escaping out the front. By getting the hind end engaged, but not allowing the front end to just run in front, you create a sort of box in which the horse's frame starts to compress. That's when you start getting the rounding of the topline. So yes, at some point, your side reins DO need to be short enough to allow her to have contact when her head and neck are in the right position.

              I was also thinking about changing from a 12% to a 14% feed. She's supposed to be a very easy keeper, so right now she's eating less than her munchkin QH pasturemates. She's 16.2h and they are 15.3h and 14h.
              What feed, and how much? The less of a fortified feed you use, the less nutrition you're getting, and in particular, the less protein. You might be surprised how much additional lysine she needs. The easy thing to do is use a ration balancer which generally provides about 10gm/lb. Or, you can add lysine separate, or Uckele's Tri-Amino.

              I had been feeding BOSS, but just ran out, and was thinking of switching to flax seed instead. I'd prefer not to add anything that will make her hot, since she has a bit of a nervous personality to begin with. I probably could add a little bit of oil, though.
              oil and boss and easy keeper don't go together I would leave out the oil, the flax is nice, and the boss can be nice too if you just feed a cup or so (if she's really and easy keeper).
              The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


              • #8
                I have to agree about ditching the side reins, but I always want to ditch side reins...

                She's weak in her back, no doubt also tight, so she needs to stretch once she's balanced enough to do so.

                How is her weight? If she's been off the track for this long and still has no topline, she may be lacking in protein and/or be sore somewhere.


                • #9
                  I agree with looking at the protein content (and quality) in her diet, and using ground poles or cavaletti if you don't have access to hills. The QH halter people using "backing" (literally making the horse step backwards continuously for the length of the arena for example) - would want to be careful with that one as I can see a lot of potential for joint issues if that was done overzealously.
                  Ainninn House Stud
                  Irish Draughts and Connemaras
                  Co. Westmeath, Ireland


                  • #10
                    Have her selenium levels checked to make sure she gets enough, which can affect muscles, and perhaps get her some bodywork, in case she is stuck somewhere, making rounding up more challenging for her.

                    Plenty of belly lifts might help too, to tone the abdominals - hers are probably weak and contributing to the problem. Be careful when you do them. If they are really out of shape , or she's quite a bit stuck somewhere, she might get really cranky. Stop if she gets really irritated and try again later. If she is resistant though, the more you try the better they usually become over time.


                    • #11
                      Stretches before you ride will help her feel looser during the ride, which may encourage her to use her topline muscles. I stretch my mare to each shoulder, as close to each stifle as she can reach, down between her fetlocks before tacking. After saddling, I stretch her front legs by picking them up and gently lifting and pulling forward, supporting the leg behind the knee and at the fetlock. At first we didn't get very much stretch there at all - mostly a look that was like 'mom, you've gone out of your mind' - but now she's very happy to let me stretch her out.

                      Also, as your horse learns to go in even an elementary frame, cavaletti can be of tremendous help. Start with three on the ground, 5' apart, and graduate to higher poles slowly as she improves. Eventually you can also increase the number. The goal should be suspension of the trot, which will encourage the horse to use the upper shoulder and hip muscles.

                      "You keep one leg on one side, the other leg on the other side, and your mind in the middle." -- Henry Taylor, "Riding Lesson"


                      • #12
                        I also agree to avoid side reins right now ...this horse, as you describe it is likely to only become "inverted" by being put in a false frame being tied to itself.

                        I would humbly suggest that you get the horse on a good plane of nutrition while at the same time judiciously working on the lunge. Regardless of the frame or way of going, just get obedience and compliance first. Then progress to lunging over ground poles, then over cavaletti, where they can learn to "reach" and come over their back (albiet on the forehand, for the moment).

                        When that is confirmed, and the horse is learning to stretch down over the topline, I would suggest using a western saddle and tying the reins to the stirrups much like we do with side reins. Doing this is a very nice precursor to using side reins and helps avoid the horse becoming bottled up and inverted because of its weak musclulature.

                        The fixed stirrups (though moveable) creates a little "weight"/pressure, wherein they can round and find their own balance without being forcably "fixed" like they are in side reins..wherein they can feel claustropobic. You'd e amazed how quickly they learn to stretch down and start to find their own balance over their backs by doing this.

                        Once that is established, ditch the western tack and work with a surcingle and side reins and slowly take them in as the horse learns to carry itself and is able to because of the slow, progressive building of muscle from the former exercises coupled with a good diet.

                        Just don't overdo the side rein thing. Get on and start using our seat and leg to help them find their balance.

                        Rome wasn't built in a day. A horse with a weak topline needs to be brought along judiciously.

                        Good luck!
                        www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
                        "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
                        Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube


                        • #13
                          Ok, This is what we do and it works like a charm, but it takes 3 solid months.

                          If I tell you, I should kill you, since this has been great secret and has done a great job on several of our horses, WB and TB alike.

                          Take your drew reins put them over your horse's head on his neck, the way you'd start with normally attaching them. You need the snap kind of reins, take the snap put it through the bit and up to the poll, on both sides and snap at the pole.

                          When using them only engage after your warm up on a loose rein. After the warm up slowly engage draw reins, play until horse begins to lower his head, be soft and gentle. This brings your horse's head to a lower position without bringing it in too.

                          Here's the key point, then release the reins and try to maintain the lower head position. That is your goal, lower head, no contact.

                          After awhile and he gets it, end every ride with a long and low head position, at the walk, trot and canter, both directions, he will end his ride relaxed and building his top line. Also go slow at all gaits, don't let him build, bring him back to a slow stead rhythm.

                          Good luck. let us know how it goes!


                          • #14
                            I didn't understand that one! :-(
                            Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                            • Original Poster

                              I don't like side reins either actually, and I hardly ever use them. In fact, I've used them twice, for about 5 minutes each time. The reason they are so loose is so that she can get the feeling of them being there without having any restriction. I absolutely don't want to create a false frame or have her head cranked back but have no impulsion behind. She's never had them on before, and I'm not about to ratchet them up tight, since she's so green, and have her flip over.

                              I also agree that she needs to learn to go forward before she can collect. This was drilled into my head as a kid, so I am definitely teaching her forward forward forward, and not "round" yet. I'm to the point now where she's happy with a supersoft, elastic, following contact about half the time. I have to admit though that I love having a green TB that I can ride around on the buckle! So the other half is her stretching down in a real forward walk with me holding the buckle.

                              I'm encouraged to hear that most of the suggestions are things that I would do/will be doing. She's doing some elementary lunging, learning voice commands. I don't do more than about 5 min, 10 at the absolute most, because she doesn't need it (meaning she doesn't need to blow off steam before I get on) and she figures it out in the first few minutes. I will be adding ground poles/cavalletti (as soon as I get some!) I do a tiny bit of the leg stretches, but I could stand to learn more stretches.

                              The area I think I really need help in is nutrition. Are there any books or internet sites that would help me? How do you get selenium levels checked? A vet? And stupid question, but what's a ration balancer? I've heard of it but don't know what it is.

                              Summit, I understood about half of that, so don't kill me yet. Are you saying the draw reins should be sort of like this: http://www.doversaddlery.com/neck-st...-3053/cn/1666/ but instead of the ends being attached to the saddle/girth, you're holding the ends? She's nowhere near ready for draw reins yet, (which I also hardly ever use) but that's a new way of using them I hadn't seen yet.


                              • #16
                                Seven-up, it sounds like you've got the riding part under control, and a good idea of how your going to bring her along.

                                Like JB said, you really need to pay attention to protein and amino acids. If you add ONE thing to her diet - add Uckele's Tri-Amino. www.uckele.com That way if she does indeed to turn out to be an air fern, you've still got that covered. Next would be checking her sel/e and if it comes back in the normal range, being supplementing slowly with a low amount - 1 or 2 mg. I have been the happiest w/Horsetech's selenium yeast, it is more expensive than others but I see a definate change in the horses when on it. www.horsetech.com

                                Otherwise, a diet or ration balancer is a no grain feed that has a concentrated amount of high protein and vitamins/minerals. I use Progressive Nutrition's Grass Diet Balancer, my TB's thrive on it. Mapleshade recently switched to it, too, and is really happy w/it. There are others.

                                For the type of horse you are describing it would be ideal, as the nonstructural carbs (the things that make horses high as kites) are very, very low.

                                Last but not least, is she getting good quality free choice hay? All the diet balancers begin w/the premise that horses should be eating a forage first diet... and I agree.
                                "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


                                • Original Poster

                                  EqTrainer- thanks. I'll check out those sites.

                                  Right now she's outside 24/7, eating what's left of the grass. She's also got free choice hay, and she's probably putting away 4-5 flakes in both am/pm. For feed, I've worked her up to 2 1/2 lb. in am/pm of Sweet Stuff, which is sort of a pellet/sweet feed mix, 12%. Not sure if it's a local brand or what. I'm not too crazy about it, just because it's not something I've ever heard of, but it has worked well for our other horses. Tomorrow I'll take a look at the bag and see what the nutritional info is, but I think it's a very basic feed. It wouldn't bother me a bit to change her feed if I have to.

                                  Before I got her, she was on rye grass hay only, no feed, and the owner said she stayed fat off of that, but she wasn't in work. Right now she's being worked pretty lightly, but my other 2 horses are dominant in the pasture, so they end up walking her around a bit. She's getting all her feed and hay, but if they keep pushing her around, I'll separate them. The whole arrangement is still pretty new.


                                  • #18
                                    I am a big, big advocate of hacking out, even if you don't have hills. Getting out of the ring, into a really good swingy walk over varying terrain (not necessarily meaning hills) can do wonders to muscles in general and backs especially. Once you know you've got go, stop, and turn and you've got a buddy who'll give her a good, confident lead, get her out and take her for some good, long walks.

                                    And I really, really like the idea of hand walking! That's pretty brilliant, especially considering that a green horse is unlikely to STRETCH and do long and low. A good hand walk out and about allowing them to stretch is brilliant. In addition, walking, under tack and in hand, over poles will help a lot too (kinda replacing hills). Start with them on the ground, and as she gets stronger raise them up.

                                    And, as others have said and the OP seems to know, good, proper schooling. Working them from back to front stressing forward and working on suppleness is always good.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Ya' know, I'm really lucky in that she's the confident one. She hacks out all by herself, and the first time going somewhere new, she might have about a half-second of doubt, and then she's like, "C'mon, let's go!" She could definitely teach my other 2 weenies something. The first time she looked at something scary, I made her 'chase' it, so now whenever she gets looky at something, she goes after it. It's pretty funny.

                                      Now that I think about it, I do have some 'varying terrain.' I have what used to be a ditch in one pasture before they built a canal behind my property. It's a gentle dip, with only about a foot's worth of difference in height from up, down, and back up, but I guess it'll have to work. Better than nothing.

                                      I thought the handwalking was a good idea too, and not just for her! My ass could use some work too. And her groundmanners are pretty good, but they could always be better. I think that would be a good opportunity to work on that as well.


                                      • #20
                                        I am by no means an expert....I'm relearning finishing a horse after 30 years of complacement. And I've picked a stubborn old muley to relearn with....good thing I have such patience!
                                        She is a hollow backed, high headed horse who came to me fat and unbalanced. I lunged her in side reins for about a year and it's made a huge difference in her. It's really just a tool to show her she can balance just fine with her head down and I only used them so long to help all the necessary muscles build up stronger.
                                        Our next stage is lunging over poles and then riding her over poles to hopefully get her to round her back up even more.
                                        Just like with us, muscle tone doesn't develop overnight and repetition helps "memorize". If only I had better muscle tone! (it's coming)