Building topline

It doesn’t matter which equine discipline you are involved in, building and maintaining a strong topline on your horse is important. Strong toplines attract judges or buyers and also help ensure the horse’s back remains strong and healthy.

While work and correct muscle conditioning play a huge role in developing and maintaining topline, nutrition plays an equally important role. To build topline you need to provide the right nutrients. Here are some tips on feeding for topline.

Feeding for topline

Tip 1—Feed enough energy (calories) for the work your horse is doing

Underfeeding means your horse will need to dip into its stored energy reserves to fuel the muscles for work. Horses will quite quickly break down their topline to use it for fuel if they are underfed.

Tip 2—Feed high quality protein

To build topline you must provide the building blocks your horse needs to make muscle. Using feeds with protein provided by soybeans, lupins, faba bean or canola meal will give your horse access to good quality sources of protein, which builds muscle. Feeds with one or more of these protein sources are best.

Avoid feeds containing cottonseed meal as the protein source. Cottonseed is a poor source of protein that is deficient in the most important amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein).

Feeding some lucerne hay will also contribute good quality protein to the diet.

Tip 3—Use top-up feeds designed to build top-line

Feeds such as KER Equi-Jewel and Pryde’s ReBuild are based on rice bran and are designed to provide extra calories and protein to help build topline. You can also use whey protein isolate or soy protein isolates.

Tip 4—Feed a balanced diet

Once again it really is so important to ensure your horse’s diet is meeting all of its nutrient requirements as any deficiency will stop your horse from reaching its potential and this includes its potential for building topline. Also, minerals like zinc are needed to effectively build muscle; failing to provide these nutrients will inhibit muscle growth, no matter how well the horse is being worked and fed with quality protein.

Again, this is where FeedXL is so useful; knowing that you are feeding a balanced diet that does meet your horse’s nutrient requirements.

Tip 5—Avoid or treat back injuries

Use properly fitted saddles at all times and quickly treat any back injuries that may occur. A horse with a sore back will avoid using its back muscles correctly, in turn preventing it from building a strong topline.

Feeding a good diet with quality protein, in conjunction with exercise aimed at strengthening the topline should give you noticeable results in 4 to 8 weeks.


Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist and horse nut. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and going on 13 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in February, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.


Click here to join us on our Facebook Page