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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey there.
So... Shan very much looks like a pasture pet these days. I can only get out to see her once a week. I can't get out more due to life circumstances. I don't always get to ride, like if I'm trimming her front hooves, she doesn't make trimming very easy on me and I'm gosh darned tired by the time I'm done. But that's only once every month or so. Anyway, I haven't really ridden as much as I could have, even with only being able to go once a week, so I'm trying to be much more intentional about riding, and making the most of what time I have with her.


Shan is 16 years old now (I've had her 11 years! Can't believe it!). She's high withered and a nice filled out topline has always been a struggle. She looked the best when we were in Arizona and I was riding her up and down steep rocky mountains 2 to 3 times a week, but go figure... that's perfect for a strong topline, lol.


I have no access to trails at our current place, and no way to trailer out either at the moment. So we are stuck riding in a large, flat, grassy field. We do dressage work quite a bit, because... what else can I do in this situation? I don't have any cavaletti, but I could definitely get some wood poles and build some.


I focus on getting her to take long strides, carry herself, active walking, working to extended trot, slow balanced canter. Lots of transitions, for example trot-halt-back-halt-trot, or trot-canter-trot. Circle work, change of direction, turns on the haunches and fore, sidepass, etc. What's strange to me is that she rides very strong and energetic and even balanced, yet she's just all flab with a nice big hay belly, lol. I focused a lot on trot-halt transitions today, and it didn't take any time for her to go from working trot to a very balanced but quick halt with just a squeeze of my inner thigh (barely even touched the reins and sometimes not at all), and then later just the same in a canter-halt! (my God, my headstrong mare is finally starting to ride like a horse that's had many years of consistent training lol). I'm very careful also to not overwork her since she's so out of shape, and pay careful attention to her breathing and such. By the end of our ride today though, she hadn't sweated much at all; only in the chest and some of the underbelly, not under the saddle pad at all, and she did in fact get a good workout at trot and a bit at canter.


So... if I can borrow Kalraii's phrase... if you made it through my word vomit, with the above described limitations, what are your recommendations for exercises to focus on to build and strengthen topline? Do I need to get some cavaletti/poles out or what else do you recommend?


P.S. She is getting a ration balancer that is supposed to specifically help the topline muscles. She's been on it for about 3 weeks and is looking much better, just still flabby, and a bit spiny (exacerbated by her ridiculously high withers. Seriously, I've had a chiropractor comment on the size of her withers in comparison to how small she is, only 14.3hh. Her head too. It's like she got the head and withers of a warmblood, and the rest of her is small cob sized. lol)
I don't have pictures at the moment, but will work on getting some.
 
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Honestly, not much will change in terms of muscle development with one ride per week, especially if you are looking for filling out the whole topline more. It can take months of consistent 3-4 rides per week to start seeing the change in a topline.

As far as riding goes, you seem to be doing the right things: lots of transitions between and within gaits. I'm also partial to riding in a stretchy walk/trot/ canter to help build the topline, and backing is helpful, as well.

You may be able to change the way his weight distributes a little bit though.

Do you live in a cold climate, and do you blanket? I've known a few horses that had the tendency to lose muscle over the winter despite consistent work, and blanketing helped deter this.

You could also look and see how much protein and amino acids (essential) your horse is getting. My horse is a bit opposite to yours (borderline IR) and keeps the topline, but has a tendency to get flabby too. He was already getting a maintenance level of protein and aa's in his vitamin/mineral supplement, but adding an additional amino acid supplement had seemed to change the way he was carrying the extra 'flab'.

Another thing you may want to look into is cushings, if the loss of topline/ hay belly is a relatively new thing for your horse?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Honestly, not much will change in terms of muscle development with one ride per week, especially if you are looking for filling out the whole topline more. It can take months of consistent 3-4 rides per week to start seeing the change in a topline.



Yes, this is my understanding too. I'm frustrated by my situation and just doing what I can. Wanted to make a post, just to see if I was missing anything.


As far as riding goes, you seem to be doing the right things: lots of transitions between and within gaits. I'm also partial to riding in a stretchy walk/trot/ canter to help build the topline, and backing is helpful, as well.



Thanks. She is at least out every day, walking the field with the herd, so she's at least getting some exercise, versus in Arizona where she sat in pen/large stall with no turnout.



You may be able to change the way his weight distributes a little bit though.



What do you mean?


Do you live in a cold climate, and do you blanket? I've known a few horses that had the tendency to lose muscle over the winter despite consistent work, and blanketing helped deter this.



When the weather cooled a bit, about two months ago or so, and her winter coat started coming in, is when I noticed that she suddenly looked much worse (I'm thinking that the end of the growing season, with not as much nutrients in the grazing since the grass went into hibernation has played a part). That's when I got her on the ration balancer and made some feed changes. It's only been a few weeks, but she's already looking better.
She does get blanketed but it hasn't been cold enough yet. We had a couple of frigid days in the 40s last week and I had the barn owner put the blanket on her for those. Then it came back up into the 70s, and today it will get to 80. Just really weird weather.


You could also look and see how much protein and amino acids (essential) your horse is getting. My horse is a bit opposite to yours (borderline IR) and keeps the topline, but has a tendency to get flabby too. He was already getting a maintenance level of protein and aa's in his vitamin/mineral supplement, but adding an additional amino acid supplement had seemed to change the way he was carrying the extra 'flab'.

Another thing you may want to look into is cushings, if the loss of topline/ hay belly is a relatively new thing for your horse?


No, her topline has always been a struggle, and she will get a hay belly at times if she likes the forage very much. They had free access in the field to a round bale and whatever the barn owner got this time she really liked, so I think that attributed to her bloated hay belly look yesterday, lol. Come to think of it, whenever she managed to break open her slow feeder back in Arizona and get free access to the grass hay, she would gorge herself to that hay belly size.

She was a bit on the thin side a few weeks ago, so I'd much rather see her getting fattened up for winter.
Of course, I'll keep an eye on her through spring/summer shedding and it would be obvious if she had cushings.

My responses in red. Thanks!
 

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I agree that you cannot really affect a change riding her only once a week, or less. But, the things you are doing in her rides are good excersizes. Maybe relax, and enjoy her , since she sounds like a really nice soul. Have some fun!
 

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Room to ride in a grass field is all you really need, the once a week is the real problem.

That said if your once a week ride is a good long ride where you are doing lots of trotting, cantering and anything else you like to do you might see some good progress. For example it isn't uncommon for Cowboys to ride a different horse each day and those horses become very broke to their job and get in great shape. Those are 8+ hour days though.
 

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While correct riding (which it sounds like you are doing) and consistency will help the most, you could also try some stretches to help with topline (like belly lift, crunches, chin to chest). I don't know how much they really, truly help, but they are something you could do even on days when you don't ride just to help her stretch and strengthen her topline. Nav seems to like them and relaxes/loosens up after we do them.
 

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Both of my horses' toplines look better since I put them on Tri-amino by Uckele. It seems affordable and has good doses of the three essential amino acids. I started with Equinety but someone on the forum pointed out Tri-amino had better doses of the AAs for a lot cheaper.

The hay my previous barn was feeding did not have good protein levels. I started Hero on it after a recommendation from a friend, and he started looking so good I put Amore on it too.

Amore only goes for walks since she is retired. But it helped her topline muscling without formal exercise.
 
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