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Ep. 070: The Reason Why Your Horse Has a Poor Topline

Co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr discuss the causes of poor topline in horses and nutrition solutions to help.

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr discuss the topline of horses including:

  • The most common reasons for a poor topline in horses
  • Tips to improve a horse’s topline with nutrition
  • Specific nutrients that impact a horse’s topline

Poor topline in horses is a common concern among horse owners, so this topic will be sure to provoke considerable interest! Send this to someone you think would benefit from this episode.

Have a topic idea or feedback to share? We want to connect with you! Email



Additional Resources or References during this episode – 

3:30 – Body Condition Scoring System

3:56 – Cresty Neck Scoring System

4:24 – Development of an equine muscle condition score (initial research on muscle conditioning in 25 thoroughbred horses) -

12:58 – Refeeding Syndrome and how to safely feed a neglected, starving rescue horse – chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/

32:15 – “Myth or Fact? Horses Can’t Digest Oils” podcast episode -




  • *Views and opinions expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Standlee Premium Products, LLC.*

Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:02):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going Beyond the Barn. Come Join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths, and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. 


Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Bar. Dr. Cubitt, it's great to have you with us today.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:34):

Good to be back.


Katy Starr (00:35):

Today We're going to be talking about topline for horses. I know this is a really common, I don't know if it's a problem, but people having issues with it, they're always looking for like, what is the answer? Why does my horse have such a poor topline? And there's some, I think, feedback out there that can be helpful, but some that's not. And so I think this is going to be a really great episode for us to kind of discuss a little bit further and really help some horse owners get maybe some clearer answers as to, you know, why they're struggling with the topline on their horse.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:09):

I agree. And I think there's so many different causes for it that, that can be challenging because every horse, it could be a different reason why they have a poor topline. And so I would add that when you go to a feed store or look at supplements for topline, there's 1,001 different ones available. And I tried it on my horse and it didn't work. So what's wrong? The supplement's bad? No, usually not. Maybe it was a different reason why your horse had a poor topline. So I think digging a little deeper into the root causes so that we fix those versus just try and put a Band-Aid on it. 


Katy Starr (01:45):

Right. Awesome. Okay. And so as we get started here, I just want to remind our listeners that any of the topics that we cover on the Beyond the Barn podcast are more generalized and not specific to any individual horse or any specific situation. Be sure to always work with your veterinarian and nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your horse's feed program. Or you can feel free to reach out to us directly and speak with Dr. Duren or Dr. Cubitt on any specifics that you would like to know more about. As we get started on this topic, Dr. Cubitt, what would you define or describe as the actual horse's topline?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (02:23):

Well, I mean if you, you can just do your own quick little Google search and look at the science and what all the kind of physiological textbooks will tell you that it's muscular. It's the topline muscles that we're talking about and it starts at the withers, goes over the back, the loin, and then over the rump or the croup area. Now a lot of folks, when I visit their barn and they show me their horse, they include the neck as part of the topline. It's not necessarily part of what we consider anatomically the topline, but it kind of gets lumped in when a horse has poor muscling over the topline, they sometimes have poor muscling over the neck too.


Katy Starr (03:04):

And are there any type of like scoring systems or anything out there, has there been research that's been done to kind of discuss like muscle conditioning of a horse in terms of, you know, seeing if there's a topline that's poor or in great condition?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (03:20):

Well, there are two standard scoring systems that are available and widely used. The oldest one is the body condition scoring system. Right. And that scores body fatness, not necessarily muscle condition, but body fatness and it's a one to nine scoring system in the USA. In other parts of the world, they've kind of abbreviated that to a one to five system and that's going to, one being emaciated, nine being super fat. Then more recently, actually a graduate student cohort of mine, Dr. Rebecca Carter, developed the Cresty Neck scoring system. That again, is still a fatness scoring system. And it was really developed to look at the kind of problems that you can run into when that neck deposits a lot of fat and they're usually metabolic concerns or laminitic concerns. So right now they're the only two kind of widely used scoring systems. Now there's been some other research that actually was just published in February of this year looking at a more standardized muscle scoring system. And I think it's exciting and interesting, but to date, even the authors said it was only done in a small number of thoroughbreds. So it hasn't really been repeated across all different kind of breeds of horses. And we all know that a saddlebred looks different to a Morgan, looks different to a Shire. And so I know that years and years of research went into developing the body condition scoring system. So it'll take a wee while, but certainly research out there.


Katy Starr (05:00):

Right. It's great to hear that there's being some toes dipped into the water in that realm and trying to identify some of those things that might make it easier at some point for horse owners to evaluate their own horses in the sense of muscle conditioning and things like that versus the fatness and everything.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (05:17):

Yeah, and I think that we have really learned, it's kind of like in people, there is a term called skinny fat, right? You're thin, but you've got no muscle tone whatsoever and that can be just as unhealthy. So if you transition that to horses, you might have a horse that is losing condition but has still got fat deposits and they're really losing muscle tone. So yeah, I think definitely moving in the direction of a muscle scoring system is a great idea.


Katy Starr (05:50):

Are there any particular types of horses that struggle with maintaining a strong topline more than others? Like for example, like breed medical ailments, life stages or anything like that?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (06:01):

I mean, some of your harder keeper, stereotypical hotter keeper breeds definitely because it's just hard for them to maintain body fat. But if I generalize much more broadly, senior horses and the reason why senior horses like a true senior horse, one of the things that happens as we age and as horses age is muscle atrophy, muscles start wasting. It's why doctors and health professionals advocate that humans do weight training, right? As we age, we should do weight training to maintain muscle mass because it's naturally going away. It's the same in horses. Older horses are losing muscle tone, especially over the topline. Young horses are developing muscle tone, so they can also look like they have a poor topline per se, but it's just because they're putting all of their energy that they have into growing muscle and growing bone and to height and there's not a lot of extra for for that filling out.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (07:02):

So young horses, older horses, and then there are certain disease states that also cause muscle wasting. So PPID or Cushing's, one of the symptoms is muscle wasting. PSSM or Tying-Up, one of the symptoms is muscle wasting. Then there are things that aren't diseases but are just physiological things like the saddle doesn't fit. I know we're going to get to a lot of these as we go on, but lameness, you know, if your leg hurts and you're favoring one leg and that goes on and on and on, you're going to lose muscle tone in the leg that you're not putting a lot of weight on. And the same thing's happening in horses.


Katy Starr (07:42):

Right. So if a horse is stalled for a little while after like an injury or something like that...


Dr. Tania Cubitt (07:47):

Absolutely. They're just going to lose muscle tone because there's a lack of exercise. But it's, a lot of times when I go to farms and people say, well, you know, my horse has got a not great topline, but he had this catastrophic injury and he is got to be stuck in a stall for six months and you know, go down that route. Well we have to prioritize what are we trying to fix first because we can't fix all things, right?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (08:12):

Well the horse had a catastrophic injury and needs to be on stall rest for six months. That is the priority. Keeping him rested so that that injury can heal. We know we're going to lose some topline, we can fix that later, but don't try and fix both at once because it's overwhelming for the horse, and for you to try and do that.


Katy Starr (08:30):

Right. I'm really glad that you said that because I was kind of thinking about that when you were going through all these different types of horses, you know, a growing foal, things like that, and the ones that kind of have those other medical problems and like just thinking about how you handle all of that at once. But if you're saying like a growing foal for example is putting all of their energy and resources and everything to, you know, growing the rest of their body. I was wondering is that something that you can kind of just be okay with just it's common, just know that it's going to happen and then we can work on it at a later time if it doesn't kind of fix itself.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (09:08):

When you have young horses, my first question is what is the goal with this young horse? Do you want to sell them or show them as a weanling? Or as a yearling? Or do we have a lot longer? And the ones that we have a lot longer, because we're going to start exercising, training them maybe at 2, 3, 4 years of age and I want this to be a riding horse, then we have a lot longer. The ones that are going to show in young horse classes or be sold as weanlings, then that's a little bit more challenging because we do kind of have to do all things at once. So we have to feed a lot more. We have to do that very safely. And so it becomes very intense management in order to reach that goal. But it's always what is your goal? And we can then work backwards from there.


Katy Starr (09:55):

Right. Okay. And then for some of these other things, is this something that just kind of goes hand in hand with it, with having a poor topline? Or is it just kind of seemed to be almost like mistaken for it being that issue, a hay belly for example. You know, we're used to seeing kind of like more of a sway back in some of those horses because of the big belly.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (10:18):

Well, hay belly, that is a tough one because it's not really tough, but there's a lot of different answers there. Most horses that are getting a poor quality hay that is very high in non-digestible fiber, and I shouldn't say poor quality, low in nutritional value hay, that it's taking a lot more to break it down. They're probably not exercising heavily. Maybe they're a maintenance horse, maybe they're just therapy. And I get to look at them in the field every day. So it's not only the fact that they're eating a low nutritional value hay that's kind of distending their belly a little because it's taking a lot longer to digest it, but you're not exercising that horse frequently. So he's also losing some of the muscle along the topline. So we've got two things kind of at once that are making that hay belly look more prominent. But if you go back to what is the cause, well he's a senior horse, he doesn't get exercised. He had a terrible injury, he's retired. You know, there's a whole slew of different reasons, a mare's pregnant and she's got a giant belly sagging off her. Of course it's pulling everything down.


Katy Starr (11:24):

Right. And then for rescue horses, I'm just guessing because they don't have that muscle development because they are so skinny in the first place that that's going to be something that they're going to have.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (11:37):

You don't have to say rescue horse, you can just say a thin horse. It doesn't have to be in a rescue situation, but a horse that has been underfed, again, if they're not getting enough nutrients and calories and protein out of the food that they're eating, they will start to catabolize, which means eat their body alive in order to supply the fuel they need to live. Living is priority. Right. And the first thing that your body will catabolize is muscle and they'll start to break down that muscle. Well, you'll use your fat first and then you'll use the sugars that are in your muscle and then they'll actually start to break down the protein in those muscles.


Katy Starr (12:19):

And one other kind of follow-up question to this that I have, because I've seen people who often, I know we're talking about thin or rescue horses, but people who do rescue horses, one of the first things that I see them like obviously they want to put weight on the horse, but then they're also talking about like, how do I fix its topline? How important is it for improving the topline of a rescue horse and at what stage of their feeding program should that even be looked at or focused on?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (12:45):

I mean, the first thing, the first question you ask when you go to a situation where a horse has been stabbed is how long has it been starved? And that is then going to dictate how you feed that horse going forward because you immediately just want to feed, feed, feed. But there's some really excellent research out of California looking at Refeeding Syndrome. And so you've got to be actually very careful due to the breakdown of muscle and the kind of hormones and everything that's going on in that horse because it hasn't been fed, if you just go in there and start feeding a bunch of fat and carbohydrates, then you can actually cause them to have a heart attack and die. And so that would be counterproductive. And the recommendations are actually in that refeeding syndrome program. Small amounts of alfalfa very frequently. So no, getting the horse safely eating again, rebuilding the hindgut microbial population, getting over any kind of medical condition that was caused by them being starved. They are the priorities. We can work on the aesthetics of topline later on.


Katy Starr (13:53):

Excellent. And so we already talked about some of these specific types of horses, senior horses, young growing horses, PSSM, PPID. Those horses that might have issues with losing muscle or lack of muscle to have that more of a poor topline. But what are some other reasons why a horse might develop a poor topline?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (14:16):

So yeah, we've talked about metabolic issues and then just age of the horse, exercise level, we talked about saddle fit or other pain causing, whether it be lameness that's causing a shift in gait, pain in the back from some reason, poor nutrition, not getting enough protein in the diet can certainly be a factor in not developing muscle. Not, you know, this is just like muscle anywhere. So if you don't have enough protein, that's certainly, and if you're also, if you're doing the wrong exercise, so maybe you're feeding all the right protein, a very balanced diet, your horse doesn't have any injuries, but you let him go around with his head in the air, well that's going to develop the muscles on the underside of his neck and the underside of his body and not the top side. So, you know.


Katy Starr (15:05):



Dr. Tania Cubitt (15:06):

I can go to the gym every day and only work on my biceps. I'm going to have really skinny legs. Right.


Katy Starr (15:11):



Dr. Tania Cubitt (15:12):

We've all seen that meme on Facebook where you say, oh that person skipped leg day.


Katy Starr (15:16):

Yep. Yeah, .


Katy Starr (15:19):

Okay. What would you say in kind of your experience with working with horse owners, what would you say is probably the most common myth that's associated with a poor topline in horses?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (15:30):

It's not really a myth, but more a mistake that people make is immediately jumping to my horse isn't getting enough protein or I need to feed more protein, instead of taking a step back, looking at the whole picture and trying to get to the root cause. Now maybe it is your horse is getting not enough protein or not enough of the right protein, maybe that is the reason, but 90% of people jump to that problem before maybe it's saddle fit and feeding your horse extra protein is not going to fix it. Or there are other nutrient deficiencies like vitamin E or selenium that would also lead to kind of muscle atrophy or muscles not developing or recovering well.


Katy Starr (16:18):

Excellent. And can it be painful for a horse if they get too poor of a topline or does it depend on how they got the poor topline in the first place?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (16:27):

Yeah, I mean I think if your horse has a poor topline and you're trying to put a saddle on them and ride them, that could definitely be uncomfortable for them. For them just walking around in the field, if they've got a poor topline because they're malnourished and not eating anything, then I mean they're hungry so of course they're uncomfortable. But I think just walking around with lack of muscling over the topline is not by nature uncomfortable for a horse.


Katy Starr (16:55):

Okay. Now I'd kind of like to talk about how we might be able to take some steps to actually improve our horse's topline with nutrition. So what nutrients, I mean you kind of mentioned it, but what nutrients have the greatest impact on the horse's topline?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (17:11):

Well, I'll start with the two lesser known ones first because protein will take up most of the rest of the episode. But vitamin E and selenium, powerful antioxidants are really important in muscle development and also muscle recovery. Remember every time you exercise you are breaking down muscle and then building it back and building it bigger and better. So if your muscles aren't recovering well then that rebuild is not happening. So vitamin E, most horses I would say that are stall kept and eat predominantly hay and don't have access to fresh green pasture are going to be deficient in vitamin E. There are less horses that are deficient in selenium only because feed companies have done a really good job of balancing selenium in their feed. So unless somebody is feeding a product that is meant to be fed at five pounds a day and they're only feeding one pound a day, then you're probably going to be covered for selenium. So that's vitamin E and selenium. Then we come to protein, which protein is the one we always think about when we come to muscles and why it always gets thrown forward and everybody's always clamoring for a topline supplement, which if you look at it, it's just some concoction of protein and fats usually. And then just not having enough calories, that will also cause your horse to have muscle wasting.


Katy Starr (18:34):

Can we talk a little bit about what some of these nutrient requirements for horses are maybe in maintenance and then how that kind of changes when they get into light and moderate work when it comes to protein or any of these other ones that do impact that topline?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:49):

Yeah, absolutely. And so a maintenance horse has pretty minimal protein and energy requirements and most decent quality hays are going to give your horse enough protein and calories. You wouldn't need to supply additional protein and calories from a concentrate per se. Now when it comes to vitamins and minerals, absolutely you need additional, but most horses that are at maintenance will get enough out of a good quality hay. From there, if we just look at exercise, if we bump up to light exercise, moderate exercise, heavy exercise, intense exercise, then the protein requirements go up, right? Those horses are doing more exercise, which requires more protein. They have big heavier muscling, they're doing more muscle turnover. So those horses do, it does increase their protein requirements. And protein and calories really go hand in hand. So if your horse needs more calories, it usually needs maybe some more protein.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (19:48):

But here's the mistake though, oftentimes people are feeding enough protein, but if your horse is thin, not enough calories. But then if we look at a broodmare, for example, in early gestation, so that first trimester, she has not really much higher requirement than a horse at maintenance for protein and calories. Then we get into the second and third trimester and her protein and calorie requirement does start to increase. And in the third trimester it really increases because that foal in utero is doubling in its size in the third trimester. And it's really just laying down tissue and fat, which requires protein and calories. I would say the animal, the stage that has the highest protein and calorie requirements is a lactating broodmare in that early lactation. She is putting so much energy into producing milk, which needs a lot of protein. because that's primarily what milk is, is protein and calories and fat.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (20:46):

So that is the stage that would have the highest requirement. The other stage would be like a stallion. And a stallion during the breeding season, we'll have slightly, I look at him as light to moderate exercise depending on how well he maintains his body weight. And then of course if we look at young growing animals, right? Young growing animals have increased protein requirements because they're growing, they're laying down tissue, bone, fat, all of which require protein. And I would say that if we want to go back to one of the myths that it's not really surrounding topline per se, but protein is that young growing animals should not be fed protein because it's going to cause them growth problems. And I guarantee it's the opposite. If you don't feed enough protein, you will cause problems in your horse. But that's for a whole other episode. 


Katy Starr (21:38):

Well, and I think this also goes to show how important it is, especially if you have some major goals in place and you're like kind of more of a high level whatever you're doing, right? Whether you're breeding, whether you're performing or any of that, you really should be working with a nutritionist to kind of help you work through some of these things that could be challenging for them.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (22:00):

And as you get higher and higher, it's just like athletes. The smaller the thing, the smaller the change makes the bigger difference, right? A horse at maintenance or doing light exercise, going to a few shows on the weekends, trail riding, you know, you go to make a giant change in order to see it in your horse, but you get to the Olympic level caliber competition and small tweaks in their program, whether it be exercise, riding style, diet, they make huge differences in overall performance.


Katy Starr (22:35):

So as we're talking about protein and the right kind of protein and things like that, I'd love for you to kind of go into a little bit of detail about what the difference between protein and amino acids are.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (22:48):

Yeah, that's a good one. So amino acids, we call them the building blocks for protein, right? They are the the little Lego structures that make up protein. There are 10 essential amino acids. And when you use the term essential correctly when referring to nutrition, it means the horse or the animal cannot synthesize or create them in the body. They have to consume them in the diet. So I have to physically eat them. And those 10 essential amino acids in horses, and I can't remember them all, I used to when I was in college, but lysine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, valine, histidine, phenylalanine and arginine. But I would say lysine,threonineand methionine are probably the three most important. And we call them the first, well we call lysine the first limiting amino acid, which means you must have enough lysine in the diet in order for any of the others that I just talked about to be actually utilized.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (23:58):

So if you only have 10% of the amount of lysine your horse requires in the horse's diet, but threonine, methionine, tryptophan, all the rest were a hundred, 110% of what they required. They wouldn't be able to use them. They would only be able to use them at 10% because we need to make sure we've got enough lysine. So that's why we call lysine the first limiting. We'd then probably call threonine, the second limiting and methionine the third limiting. So if you look at feed tags, you're starting to seethreonineand methionine listed on the feed tag. But they are the 10 essential amino acids. Now they're going to come from legumes like alfalfa, soybean meal, canola meal, clover hays, these whey protein concentrates. These are all going to be good sources of protein or essential amino acids in the diet. I want to point out one thing that I never think about it, but then I always remember and because we're talking about amino acids and kind of the nutritional aspect of topline, the other thing that can affect topline is, okay, so all the things we've talked about, we're feeding enough protein, we're doing the right exercise.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (25:13):

My horse doesn't have bad saddle fit, he doesn't have any lameness, he doesn't, he is not a senior. But if your horse has, we'll call it microbial dysbiosis, that's a fancy word for gut upset. If those bugs aren't working properly and you have some deterioration or breakdown in the tissue in the gut, that is where nutrients are being absorbed. So you can feed all the nutrients in the world, but if they're not being absorbed into your horse, then your horse will also have kind of malabsorption or malnutrition. And that's a hard one because you might be doing everything correctly and feeding everything, but it's not being absorbed. That is a harder one to determine or diagnose. But you work with us and your veterinarian and we can help you if you think that is the case. But that's the other one is if your horse has some gut issues, hindgut issues in particular, then we know that can also cause kind of issues with topline and just overall body condition.


Katy Starr (26:14):

Yeah, those are some really great points. I mean, and some things that people might not necessarily consider. So if they think that they're feeding all the right things, but maybe they're short on lysine, they're not going to be getting all the different, you know, proteins that they actually need, amino acids, and then they're again, if they are not set up in their digestive system where it's working properly and it's not absorbing what you're feeding your horse.


Katy Starr (26:37):

Again, that might not be something that a horse owner would naturally think of first. So I think that's really great that you brought those up.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (26:44):



Katy Starr (26:46):

So you talked a little bit about, you know, where we can find some of these things, forages, feed, supplements, when it comes to I guess other type like concentrates or any supplements or things like that, what particular ingredients are you looking for in any of these products when you're looking to see like, and you could even give some examples because I'm sure it could be different for different horses. So you know, let's say that you have a horse that is just lacking the amount of protein that they need in their diet, the right kind of protein, like what kind of things or examples could you share with us to help us understand that a little bit better?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (27:24):

So the classic scenario is, you know, a horse not doing any exercise, maybe doesn't have access to pasture, but it's getting a local grass hay, plenty of it. So he's fat enough but he just doesn't have great topline. Well you know, I have to taper their expectations. They're not exercising him so he is not doing work that's going to help develop those muscles. But nutritionally he's fat so they don't feed him anything else. He doesn't need any grain per se, but a ration balancer, right? And a ration balancer is going to give you the vitamins and minerals you need to complement that hay. But that local hay that might have a six or seven percent crude protein, which is pretty low, it's also going to have maybe 25-30% protein in it. But remember you're only feeding a pound a day of most ration balances. So it works out to be not copious amounts of protein, but that's going to be made up of really good quality proteins, high in those amino acids. So you're going to see things like alfalfa meal, soybean meal, canola meal, these are all going to be sources of protein in that ration balancers. So if you're just looking to not get him any fatter but help just overall balance his diet, ration balances are ideal. They're easy, simple, they work out to be really inexpensive because you're feeding so little of it.


Katy Starr (28:48):

So that would be a good situation for some low-calorie options for overweight horses then to kind of supplement that diet. So let's say you have a horse that maybe is underweight in general. One thing that I saw come up when I was looking into this is somebody, and we have an episode on this, but I want you to kind of touch on it just a little bit here, is are there any certain types of oils that might be able to help with developing a better topline, I guess on the side of adding calories? Because this particular situation that I saw, they had read something and assumed that horses cannot digest oils because they don't have a gallbladder. And so that kind of went into a whole other route there. But I just thought it would be a great opportunity if there was anybody else thinking that same way, that you could kind of, I guess nip that in the bud a little bit.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (29:38):

Horses don't have large quantities of fat in their diet naturally. The gallbladder does not do anything other than store bile. The bile salts and that bile fluid is what breaks helps to break down fat, that is created by the liver, then that is stored in the gallbladder. The gallbladder in people then, you know, I eat a high fat diet and it's 60-70% high fat and that gallbladder is then just pumping out so that I have all those extra reserves to break down that fat. It's very rare for a horse, in research settings, we got them up to like 25% total diet, but most horses are eating even on a high fat diet, the total diet being six or seven percent, so it's really not that high at all. And so then when it comes to calories, every single oil has exactly the same calorie content and they will all put weight on your horse the same way. There are some oils extracted from certain plants like rice bran oil that has an ingredient or a plant sterol that kind of mimics a steroid called gamma oryzanol. And a lot of folks will lean, oh well I'm going to use the rice bran oil because that is going to help me build more muscle because of this gammaoryzanol,you have to feed a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. Nobody's going to feed and enough make it work for that to really be effective. So that's a little bit of a marketing gimmick, if I'm being honest.


Katy Starr (31:19):

Well that's good to know. If you were to add oil, I guess to a horse's diet, what would you kind of suggest in that manner for supporting that strengthening of the topline?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (31:31):

Depends on what you're trying to do. If you're just trying to put weight on your horse, then go to the grocery store and buy vegetable oil. If you are trying to put weight on your horse but also decrease inflammation, then you're going to look for an oil that decrease, that has more omega three fatty acids in it, for example. Now we might be looking more like flaxseed oil or canola oil.


Katy Starr (31:52):

And you mentioned this before too, but inflammation, a little bit, is not necessarily a bad thing. It's a body's natural reaction.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (32:03):

Exactly. We just know that people and horses by nature have too much inflammation, due to a whole slew of different factors.


Katy Starr (32:12):

So for anybody that wants to kind of take a deeper dive and listen more about this specific topic, definitely go listen to our episode where we talk about if horses can digest oils or not. And I will link that in the show notes so you can go and check that out. But there's a lot of great information in there that I think you will find very helpful. So, and then you've touched on this a little bit, and I know that we've talked briefly on this on some other episodes including the last, maybe it was the last episode, but like a big struggle for people who, you know, maybe their horse doesn't have that topline that they're looking for, but they're feeding whatever kind of products that they're doing to try to support that, they're not feeding to the feed directions that are recommended on the packaging. So maybe speak to that a little bit about making sure that we feed at minimum recommended feeding rates to ensure that they're getting all the nutrients that they need in the right amounts. Because you could be feeding a little bit of something like, oh, I'll just do like half of you know what it says on the back of the bag, maybe they don't need all the calories. Right? Well in that case they're probably feeding the wrong type of product for their horse.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (33:24):

Absolutely, we'll start with forage first because that's the foundation. And so if I go into a situation, first thing I'll ask is, okay, we'll get through the goals, we'll determine whether there's something glaring that is causing this issue or like a health issue or not. So we get through all of that and then I say, okay, how much hay are you feeding your horse? Before I even ask what type of hay, how much hay are you feeding? Are we feeding enough? Are we feeding at least one and a half to two and a half percent of the horse's body weight? Well, we're feeding one and a half. Okay, I want you on the upper end, if my horse is thin, right? And I'm going to look at feeding 2.5% of the horse's body weight. So first thing we're going to do is, if we're not feeding enough hay, increase the amount of hay, then we're going to evaluate what type of hay are you feeding.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (34:10):

If you want weight gain and you're feeding a local grass hay that has next to no calories and protein and nutrients in it and it's really just a filler that should be fed to a fat pony, then we might try and bring in some additional sources of higher nutritional value fiber, right? So we might bring in some beet pulp or some alfalfa pellets or some timothy cubes or something that is going to improve the nutritional value of the fiber component of the diet. Once we've done that, that's when I start looking at the actual concentrate feed. So if we've got two point a half percent of the horse's body weight in great quality forage, then we're going to look at, okay, now we're going to look at a feed, at a concentrate coming in a bag. And what Katy mentioned is absolutely correct. If the lowest minimum feeding rate for your horse's body weight is five pounds for that particular bag and you're only feeding two and a half, not only are you cutting out the protein and calories, which is fine because you know, maybe, well in this case it's not fine because the scenario the horse is thin, but let's say your horse was fat, then it would be fine.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (35:19):

But you're also cutting in half the vitamins and minerals that have been formulated to be a hundred percent of what that horse needs when you're feeding five pounds. So if you are feeding two and a half, you're only giving half the amount of vitamins and minerals. So we make sure that we can feed the, feed the concentrate that you've chosen at the recommended amount. If you can't, then we find one that you can. If feeding the feed, then that concentrate and the hay is still not doing it. Now we're going to look at additional sources of calories


Tania Cubitt (35:50):

Coming from oil, or maybe we look at an additional source of protein in a supplement. Or, if we've determined our horse is getting plenty of protein, which mostly they are, maybe we'll look at adding some additional vitamin E.


Katy Starr (36:07):

Excellent. And so, okay, we've talked a lot about nutrition obviously, because that's kind of our bread and butter and everything, but another important aspect to strengthening the horse's topline is exercise. So when we're looking at that for our horses, what types of things should we be doing with our horses to help improve and strengthen that topline?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (36:27):

Well if you look at, you know, a picture of a horse and you look at the muscles that you're actually trying to develop, then it makes it easier to, okay, what exercises are going to engage those muscles? So it's exercises that make your horse, like if this is the head over here and this is the tail that put your horse in more of a rounded position versus you don't want them like that, you don't want going with his head up in the air, which means it's disengaging those back muscles, hollowed out back muscle and the muscles under the belly then just develop or the muscles under on the underside of the neck. So work with whatever your trainer or the discipline you're in that exercises that are going to engage those topline muscles. Working on a hill. You know, when you work on, when an animal naturally has to go uphill, they will round those back muscles to try and pull themselves up a hill, whether it's stepping over poles, those kinds of things. And I think any discipline can do that.


Katy Starr (37:25):

And you mentioning going up a hill and things like that, and you've talked about this in other episodes, but a way that you could kind of naturally do that is if you have, you know, your horse's pasture or paddock set up to where it, there is like a hill, maybe putting a water somewhere where they would have to get to it to go up and down or something like that to kind of engage that naturally.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:48):

I know you'd have to walk up the hill too, but make sure if the gate's down here, but there's a hill and you can put the water or even you're putting your hay up here.


Katy Starr (37:57):

Yeah, that would have to work for probably a pretty particular situation. But you know, if you're set up that way, it might be very advantageous of you to do that.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:06):

It'll help.


Katy Starr (38:07):

We are getting to the end of this episode, Dr. Cubitt, what would be your key takeaways that you would like to leave our listeners with on the topic of strengthening your horse's topline?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:18):

I think that my biggest takeaway is work with your team. Your veterinarian, your farrier, your dentist, your equine nutritionist, work with your trainer even I'll bring a trainer into this one as well.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:33):

And try to get to the root of why the horse has a poor topline. Because you will spend a lot of money, a lot of tears, and a lot of time if you don't do that first, right? Because you'll try all things and then maybe in 10 years time you'll find the right thing. But if we step back and we look at the horse and we evaluate what is causing it, then we're going to have a better chance of fixing that and then helping your horse develop that topline. But if you thought, no, my saddle's beautiful, it's not causing any problems and you never focused on saddle fit and you changed all the exercises and you changed the diet and you got a vet to come out and do a workup and you never evaluated the saddle. You've spent a lot of money, time, and tears before. Hmm, maybe I should have checked the saddle at the very beginning.


Katy Starr (39:25):

Yes. And having that team together, I think will get you that answer quicker than if you're doing it yourself. So knowing that you don't have to do it alone, look for somebody for some support. And you know, if you're at a point where you haven't really gotten to that yet and you want to reach out to us to kind of help you figure out how you kind of grow and strengthen that team, you know, reach out to us because we'd love to be able to help get you to a point where you can really feel comfortable and confident, especially as a new horse owner. So, and to our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in to the Beyond the Barn podcast. We really appreciate you all. If you have any topic ideas that you would like us to cover on the Beyond the Barn podcast, reach out to us at, share your feedback, let us know what you think and your ideas, and we'd love to be able to work with you and get to those. So until next time, Dr. Cubitt, thanks for being here.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (40:20):

Thank you.


Katy Starr (40:23):

Thanks for listening to the Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water.



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