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Feeding to Improve Your Horse’s Topline


Martin W. Adams, PhD, PAS – Equine Nutritionist for Southern States

The topline of the horse refers to the muscle cover over the top of the horse’s neck, back and rump, specifically the withers, back, loin and croup. Show and performance horses require strong toplines to provide balance and strength for racing, jumping and dressage. Many factors contribute to the horse’s topline or lack of it; including genetic conformation, age, exercise, disease (gastric ulcers and Cushing’s Disease, for example) and chronic back pain (kissing spine, poor saddle fit, vertebral sublaxation, arthritis, etc.). Nutritional factors include body condition, because as the amount of fat tissue increases it will add depth to the horse’s topline as well. However, if we provide enough calories to maintain a body condition of 5.0 or more in a horse that is in regular work, and don’t supply enough quality protein, the topline can be inadequate to provide optimal muscular performance.

Trainer with a horse in a ring

Protein quality is dependent upon essential amino acids. The three most important or limiting amino acids for the horse are lysine, threonine and methionine. Growing horses and horses in work need more of these amino acids for muscle growth and repair. They are called limiting amino acids because if they are not provided in the diet, they can’t be synthesized at an adequate amount in the body and protein or muscle growth is limited.

Many mature horses in work are provided large amounts of hay and pasture, and many of these breeds or types, especially sport horses, are easy keepers. Adequate body condition can be maintained with these horses, but in many cases, topline can be improved with a simple feeding change. The problem is that conventional horse feeds or concentrates are designed to meet nutrient requirements when fed at a minimal amount of 0.5% of body weight daily. Many sport horses, and other easy keeper breeds, are fed less than this amount because of their more efficient metabolism and large amounts of forage fed. This results in less than required amounts of amino acids, minerals and vitamins in the horse’s diet. This situation is more problematic for providing essential amino acids for the horse, because the digestion of protein or absorption of essential amino acids for forages is less than half as that for concentrates, resulting in inadequate essential amino acid intake.

Feeding a few pounds per day of a regular horse feed won’t provide adequate essential amino acids for many active horses, and a good topline will not be achieved. The way to insure an adequate supply of essential amino acids is to include a balancer pellet in your horse’s diet. Balancer pellets are designed to meet the protein, mineral and vitamin requirements when fed at small amounts along with only forage (hay and pasture). They are recommended for easy keepers and horses needing a feeding program for weight reduction. The feeding rate is typically 1 pound per 1,000-lbs body weight per day. Replacing one pound daily of your regular horse feed with a pound of a balancer pellet will provide the required amount of essential amino acids to your horse’s diet, and you should see an improvement in topline in a few months.

Legends CarbCare Balancer Pellet and Triple Crown 30% Ration Balancer are designed to meet all nutrient requirements of your horse with a low feeding rate of 1 pound per 1,000 pounds of body weight. These products contain high levels of guaranteed amino acids, minerals and vitamins, as well as live yeast, probiotic bacteria, organic trace minerals, flaxseed and biotin.


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