Follow these five steps to strengthen your horse’s neck, back and hindquarter muscles.

Your horse should naturally have a good topline. There should be a smooth line from their neck to their nail. Unfortunately, potential issues can arise. An improperly fitted saddle, starting a horse too young and lameness are just a few reasons why your horse may have a weak or sunken topline.

A strong topline is vital for horses being ridden. It allows them to properly carry the weight of a rider and move more fluid. If these muscles along the neck, back and hindquarters are weak, then your horse will look hollow and stiff.

The good news is your horse can develop a strong topline with your help! Follow these steps to achieve a sounder and healthier horse.

  1. First, you’ll need to develop a strategy and evaluate your horse’s current condition. I like to begin with the fit of my saddle. An ill-fitting saddle can cause your horse to carry themselves improperly. They position themselves as to lessen the pain, which can lead to bad posture. Remember, the shape of your horse can change with training and age. Your saddle fitter should come out regularly in the beginning and every six months after that.  Diet can also affect your horse’s ability to develop a strong topline. In order to build up muscles, your horse’s diet must contain proteins and amino acids. It’s important to note that the amount of protein your horse consumes must match their exercise level. Furthermore, you should allow your horse to eat with their head down in the grazing position.
  2. Start your horse with some simple stretches. You can activate your horse’s core by stretching them to the left, right and in-between their front legs. These are known as carrot exercises. In time, you can ask them to hold it longer and stretch deeper. The good news is they’re quick and easy to do.
  3. Before you climb into the saddle, you can also back up your horse. Try to keep their head level, so they really use their hindquarters. A few steps in the beginning will help to activate those muscles. Eventually, you can back around the entire arena!
  4. One of the best exercises for a strong topline is hill work! Whether in the saddle or on the lounge line, hill work encourages your horse to use their back and hindquarter muscles naturally. You should allow their neck to stretch down when going up and down the hills. Additionally, make sure each gait is well-balanced. The slower your horse goes the more challenging it is for them to stabilize.
  5. Ground poles are yet another exercise to try. You can walk and trot your horse over two poles in the beginning. As their muscles develop, increase the number of poles and your horse’s speed. You can even try cavaletti, which are raised poles. The spacing between the poles is important, so consult your trainer for additional help.

Ultimately, you need to encourage your horse to activate their hindquarter and back muscles. A horse that travels heavily on their forehead will hollow their back and move improperly. Luckily, these exercises will set you and your horse on the right track!


Emily Fought discovered her passion for horses early on in life. When she isn’t writing about them, you can find her in the barn riding. Although Emily’s background is in dressage, she enjoys cross-training and is an avid trail rider. She resides in Northwestern Pennsylvania with her husband and small dog. Together, they own and operate Humblewood Farm.

Emily Fought
October 22, 2020