Building A Horse's Topline

Building A Horse’s Topline

Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Allison Price

Henneke Body Condition Scoring System is the industry standard for evaluating horses’ diets. The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System is a scale from 1 to 9, with 9 being very obese and 1 being extremely emaciated. The horse’s body condition score can be used to determine if the horse is getting enough calories and energy. This system cannot evaluate any other nutrients or determine if a horse has metabolic problems.

Tribute has developed a supplemental system that gives more information about a horse’s nutrition status. This is the Tribute (r), Wellness System. It evaluates a horse’s overall condition and also assesses its metabolic status.

The horse’s topline is the area running from the withers to its back (loin), and down to the croup. Important is the muscling of the topline. It supports the spine and joints and is also an indicator of health (muscling). For horses to be athletic and sound, a strong topline is essential.

Building A Horse's Topline

Tribute (r), Wellness System uses an 1 to 4 scoring system for evaluating topline. It works as follows:

  • Score of 1: The spine can be easily seen and felt. Topline muscles are significantly sunken
  • Score of 2: The spine protrudes but is not easily felt. Topline muscles are slightly sunken
  • Score of 3: Spine and topline muscles are even
  • Score of 4: Topline muscles are located above the spine (ideal).


The genetics of each horse can have an impact on the horse’s topline. Without the right nutrients, a horse’s topline will not reach its full potential. Protein is the most important nutrient to improve a horse’s topline. Not just any protein will do. High-quality protein should be combined with the correct amino acids.

Chains of amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and other important tissues. Protein is made up of amino acid chains. Horse owners may be meeting their horse’s daily protein requirements, but they might not be meeting their horse’s amino acids needs. Forages often lack essential amino acids, such as lysine and methionine. Even if a forage is high quality, it won’t provide enough amino acids to support a healthy and strong topline. This is especially true for low-quality feeds. Remember that feeding more protein or forage is not the solution. A deficiency of one amino acid will not compensate for an abundance of another. All amino acids are essential for muscle growth and repair.

You can ensure that your horse receives the right amount of protein and other nutrients by feeding them quality concentrates or ration balancedrs. High quality feeds made by reputable companies often contain the missing amino acids. The quality concentrates are made from protein sourced from soy, flax seeds and peas. These concentrates contain essential amino acids that forage does not.

Owners might have problems feeding enough protein and the right amount of amino acids to their horses. Overfeeding horses can result in excess energy or calories. This is where a quality balancer comes in. Essential (r) and Wholesome Mixes (tm) Balancing are great choices for those who need to keep track of things. These nutrient-dense, low-calorie ration balancers have been fortified with essential amino acids (lysine and methionine), which are not available from forage. These ration balancers are also great for horses who are overweight. These will give them the amino acids that they need to maintain or enhance their toplines while also limiting their energy intake.

Additional nutritional support will be required for horses with low body weights or who have difficulty maintaining their weight. High quality feeds such as kalm ‘NEZ (r) and Senior Sports (tm), are excellent options. These feeds are high in fiber and fat, but low in non-structural carbohydrate (NSC). This allows horses who are hardworking and/or thin to have the right nutrients to gain or maintain body weight as well as improve their appearance.

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