Of Horse

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Building Up the Topline
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Building Up the Topline

Spring! The magical word most horse enthusiasts LOVE to hear. Most of us are slowly gearing up to begin those beautiful rides down the trails, through the countryside and over the hills. It's a season that we know begins when our horses start shedding and we wear more hair than they do. It's also the season in which showing begins. We want to show off the best of our horses whether it's under halter, English hunter/jumpers or Western pleasure or equitation classes. Some are in it for the games or trail classes too. No matter what discipline you ride in, you've got to get your horses back into shape from the long hiatus of winter. Unless you're fortunate enough to own an indoor arena of some type, this means a lot of hard work to get back into shape and we know it's not going to happen overnight. 

For various reasons, Cookie has been resting for the better part of the last six months. One boo boo here, another boo boo there. I swear at one point I was going to wrap her up in bubble wrap!  Now that she has healed, it's time to begin rebuilding her topline. For those who are new to horses: (In a nutshell) The topline is the line of back muscles on each side of the withers to include the spine that run from shoulder to hip and basically stops along the top of the barrel, however, side (barrel) muscles are involved as well. It's not just the topline in itself that needs work. Other muscles involved are the hips, belly, side (barrel) and shoulders all work together to help build the topline. 

There are many "cheats" out there than you can use to help build this topline. Side reins and a method called "biting up" are 2 that readily come to mind. In each case, the horse is fitted with a bit. The reins are attached to each ring on the bit, then attached to a point on their back either using a surcingle or saddle. The reins are generally attached to the stirrups, the top of the cinch or saddle horn. The point of doing it this way is to bring the horses' nose down and back to vertical and hold it there during various lunging exercises for collection. The horse must pull their heads back further to get release from the pressure of the bit. I have seen many people use this method and others and I'm trying to avoid using these shortcuts. It's more work for me, but I believe I'll have a much better relationship with my horse and there won't be any holes in her training. Shortcuts tend to create holes in training, so you end up with a problem you didn't have before, a less responsive horse and you'll have to go back and fix those problems before moving forward. It's just much easier to do it right the first time even if it takes longer to achieve whatever it is I'm working towards. 

When building the topline, you are not just working with or concentrating on the back muscles. I mean let's face it, if you want stronger arms, you're not just going to work the biceps. You're going to work the front and backs of your arms as well as your shoulders too. 

Some of the exercises I will be doing are: side pass, half pass, ground cavaletti - at the walk and trot, disengaging both shoulder and hip as well as some bends and backing up. I will also try to get some hill work in which is great for building all of these muscles at the same time. 

The key here is to go slow and don't forget to rest. Some people think a horse moves constantly so therefore it can go all day. That's not true. You and your horse will get tired and sore. A day of rest is usually welcomed. I also have to mention here that it takes nearly the same amount of time to build the topline as it does to grow a hoof. You'll see results all along, but you won't be finished as soon as you think or would like. 

I'm going to start my training sessions at a half an hour and gauge how Cookie is doing. If she tells me she can handle more work, then we'll work 15 minutes longer. I'll do this for about a week or 2 and increase the time by 15 minutes until we can hit a full hour without a rapid decline in energy. Just like people, they have to work up to longer periods too although generally speaking, they're in better physical shape than we are even after a long winter. lol. Unless of course you're one to exercise through winter too, then you'll be ahead of the catch up game. 

I'm going to follow my training days with a good 15-30 minute massage with some Absorbine. On days that especially warm, I know she'll appreciate the cooling effect it will have as well as ease muscle tension and soreness. It will be great to be able to hose her down too when the weather permits it. I don't have access to warm water and I don't want to shock her system or stop the cooling process by hosing her off with cold water. It could also cause her to tie up (go into muscle cramps) and I don't want that. Eventually as Cookie gains muscle tone and stamina, we'll work on collection. Most of the exercises will have her started on that already, so it should be easier to refine it some if she needs it. 

Hopefully the weather is giving you a break where ever you are and you're able to enjoy some time with your horse. We should be good to go without too many more cold rainy days here... at least I'm praying for the sun to hang around anyways. lol


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