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Exercises for Building a Horse's Topline

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  • Exercises for Building a Horse's Topline

    I am hoping to brainstorm about good topline building exercises whether on the ground or during flatwork.
    Exercises that have been shared with me before: (a) rigging the horse (surcingle or Pessoa), (b) "long and low" under saddle, and (c) focusing on hind-end engagement on hills such as on trails or fields (for a horse that needed to build hind end muscle and work on maintaing their topline).

    What have you done to build a horse's top line? For those who have rigged, do you have a preference between a surcingle or Pessoa training system (or equivalent)?

    What have you used? Suggestions/thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

  • #2
    Not really an exercise, but one of the "stretching" things you can do after the ride is a "belly lift" is kind of scratch along their belly (you might have to try different things until you get the right response) and they'll lift the muscles along their back in response. I found a document that talks about it here.

    Also trot poles will encourage them to stretch out and use themselves better.
    The Trials and Jubilations of a Twenty-Something Re-rider
    Happy owner of Kieran the mostly-white-very-large-not-pony.

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    • #3
      Avoid gimmicks like draw reins and longing rigs. A horse should learn how to carry itself without "forcing" its head down. It takes more time, but your horse will enjoy its work more and be a happy and willing partner.

      Check out Will Faerber at www.art2ride.com. He has great instructional videos on classical foundation training to teach your horse to stretch the neck down ("long and low"), step through with the hind end and round with the back. As the horse builds up the back muscles and strength in the hind end and neck, eventually you can bring the horse's head up for more collection and still maintain roundness through the back.

      For hunter/jumper disciplines, the collection may not be as much as with dressage but the foundation is the same: teaching a horse self-carriage and building strength in the back muscles without force.

      Believe me, this is not a quick fix. It takes time and patience but it is so worth it!

      Also, check that you are feeding a balanced diet with enough protein so your horse can safely build up muscle. Check out www.feedxl.com for a great resource for calculating the nutrition that your horse needs.

      Have fun!

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      • #4
        There is no easy way but the answer is easy. Lots of long and low and balance work. If you can get your horse to do long and low properly and all three gaits you have a nice back but it does take lots of time.. Our horse, which we bought last August, was working and eventing continually so who thought his shape would change dramatically. Well, after about 6 months of riding him completely different his back has changed a ton. Some much that my saddle which did fit no longer does. You also have to engage the hindend....
        Wprk on compressing him when you work and relaxing. The muscle takes a long time before they can carry themselves for a long time in the nice frame...
        Mai Tai aka Tyler RIP March 1994-December 2011
        Grief is the price we pay for love- Gretchen Jackson
        "And here she comes. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's ZENYATTA!"

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        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by akherrera View Post

          Check out Will Faerber at www.art2ride.com. He has great instructional videos on classical foundation training to teach your horse to stretch the neck down ("long and low"), step through with the hind end and round with the back. As the horse builds up the back muscles and strength in the hind end and neck, eventually you can bring the horse's head up for more collection and still maintain roundness through the back.
          I will check the videos out! I know that building a horse's topline takes time, but the input is very helpful nonetheless!

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          • #6
            Thanks for the link to Will Faeber, Akherrera. Just watched one video in his blog archives. Love his methods!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by BellaFortuna View Post
              Exercises that have been shared with me before: (a) rigging the horse (surcingle or Pessoa)
              This should be done under a trainer's guidance, horse should already be very comfortable/experienced on the lunge, should be fit & the gear should still only go on for maybe 2 minutes the first day (assuming you're "using" the lines - just on the horse, to desensitize is a different lesson).
              "Person in the middle" should be well versed in lunge technique.


              What have you done to build a horse's top line? For those who have rigged, do you have a preference between a surcingle or Pessoa training system (or equivalent)?
              A Pessoa system video - good as it shows the cavesson, surcingle etc clearly & trainer does state that is an advanced system - horse in video is able to walk,trot,canter with little difficulty as he is already developed though his topline & has done collection etc.
              As a "how to start using a Pessoa type system" it's a FAIL - you would never do more than a walk the first days - weeks, depending on your horse's fitness.

              Correct lunge line work does require training on the part of the person, your position is very important; I see a lot of horses that lunge in spite of their person, of course they don't exactly "train" or develop much when working in this state of confusion - but I always admire how willing & forgiving the horse is

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              • #8
                You might ask this question on the dressage forum. We're all about toplines.
                Donald Trump - proven liar, cheat, traitor and sexual predator! Hillary Clinton won in 2016, but we have all lost.

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                • #9
                  Dressage is great for building top line. Work on balance and the horse following your contact. So long and low and also come up to more of a dressage frame. Have him follow you but don't forget that following comes from behind so first you want to work on forward and engaging the hind end then the head will come to the contact. Trot poles are great for encouraging to lift through their back. But when you come to the poles you want to use your seat and leg and lift the horse so he will bring his back up. But before all you need balance. If the horse is not balanced he will not be able to carry himself properly.
                  Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole

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                  • #10
                    I like hill work, and flat work focusing on keeping them pushing from behind, and lifting at the base of their neck (mine can go long and low all day, but really needs to work on that LIFT of the base of the neck, and engagement through the hind end to really work the top line).

                    I recently moved to a barn where I have access to BIG hills. I long trot up this hill (the second ridge in the photo) a few times a week. I have seen a dramatic improvement in my horse's top line in the 8 weeks we have been doing hill work. Hind quarters are much more filled out, back has broadened, and neck has improved.
                    APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman

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                    • #11
                      I second the Dressage work. It has really made a huge difference in my horse.

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                      • #12
                        Third the dressage.
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