Spillers' equine nutritionist Clare Barfoot provides one H&H forum user with some helpful advice on how to add topline onto a horse who is a good-doer
Q: “My horse is a good doer. Not overweight but has a good little grass belly. His ribs are still able to be felt. He also lacks lots of muscle. Any of the other horse I have ever had lacking muscle I have fed a conditioning feed as well as suitable and correct work. I don’t want to feed this horse as he doesn’t need it, but can he still gain the muscle from the work required without the feed? Would a low cal chaff like happy hoof and a balancer or supplement help?”
A: Evaluating muscle tone and topline can be confusing. This is because to the untrained eye, the rounded appearance over a horse’s back and quarters can look like good topline, but in reality, it may well be excess fat. This area should be predominantly muscle with a small covering of fat. Topline will also look different in relation to breed and type; thoroughbreds, especially those that are fit, tend to be more angular compared to the more rounded appearance of a warmblood or cob so it’s important to be realistic about what you are trying to achieve and consider breed/type.
Topline and muscle tone need to be developed through appropriate schooling and a well-balanced diet, however, if the lack of muscle tone is severe or uneven it is best to speak to your vet. Muscle is made up of protein which is in turn built up from amino acids so it is important that the diet provides good quality protein with high levels of amino acids to provide the ‘raw material’ for muscle development.
If you can see your horse’s ribs it is unlikely that he is overweight; a grass belly is often just a sign of gut fill especially if your horse is on a high fibre diet therefore, as you rightly point out, there is no need to feed additional calories in the form of a conditioning feed.
The best option for your gelding is to feed a balancer that should give him all the vitamins and minerals he needs to provide a balanced diet alongside quality protein and amino acids to support topline development and good muscle tone without unnecessary calories. SPILLERS Original Multi Balancer fed alongside a low calorie chaff like SPILLERS HAPPY HOOF is ideal in your gelding’s situation.
For more information on feeding to support weight gain call the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626.