The muscles change
Throughout the last year, I have noticed some changes in the muscles of our horses, as I have not seen before. At least not as clear as now.
Our horses are not perfect, but I will try to show what I'm looking for. We took some pictures of Lucky Lady the other day, so I use her as a model. Lucky Lady is a relatively big horse she is about 178 cm. She has a long back, short neck and she is a little straight in her hind legs. She does not have much hock action. It is not easy for her to step deep under herself. Still, it is possible to develop her muscles so that she will look more correct and work better.
The saddle is of great importance
It's fun to see how one's horse can change appearance through targeted training. The horse's muscles can of course change both positively and negatively depending on how it is practiced. But the saddle also plays a big part in how the horse develops.
For example, it is very common to see holes/dips behind the horse's shoulder, where the saddle rests. Or at the base of the neck right in front of the wither. Many horses have no muscles just in front of the shoulder blade. It is also not uncommon to see the spine very clearly. All of these things indicate that the horse has not developed a strong topline.
There should be no holes or dips in any places and the spine should not look prominet. All muscles must flow into each other.
What I would like to see is that our horses start to look as if they were "built uphill". Their necks should look round and powerful. The back should look strong and must not hang down. The abdominal muscles must be strong so that the belly is not hanging. The topline should look longer than the under line. And so I would like it to look even when the horses are standing and relaxing. That's the dream at least.
If you develop your horse correctly, it's the muscles that make the horse look like this. Therefore, it should not only look like this when a rider is sitting on the back of the horse.
Development of the topline
For the last 22 months, I have been training to develop the horses' toplines. In order for the horse to be able to develop its top line, it must learn to elongate these muscles and it must start using its abdominal muscles. It is the development of the abdominal muscles that make it look as though the horse lifts its back. The back muscles must not be hard and tight, they must be stretched and loosened. That's why I let the horses stretch as deeply as I do.
Some horses use the underside of the neck to keep their heads up and it is completely wrong. These are horses who do not work from back to front. When these horses finally relax in the underside of the neck and start stretching, you will often see them stretching their neck almost right down to the ground. This is because they are not yet strong enough in their top line to keep their head and neck more forward.
When the horse has a strong topline, it will still benefit from stretching all the way down. Just as we stretch ourselves out. But now it will look different, it's like the neck is more round and the head will be further away from the forelegs.
One of the muscles I would like to see develop is Trapezius. It stretches from the base of the neck just in front of the wither and forward in the upper part of the neck. And it's on the side and a little bit behind the wither. This muscle is often underdeveloped. This is due to the training and the saddle. Really many saddles do not provide enough space for this muscle to develop. And I have to admit I did not know it could fill out so much and stretch so far backwards.
Our horses have developed this muscle very much after I bought my Peter Horobin saddle. Read as appropriate "There should be room for the shoulders". None of our horses have now holes behind their shoulders. Actually this muscle, which is so often underdeveloped, is the one that helps the horse lift the forehand. The horse will never look like it "goes uphill" if this muscle is not developed.
Another muscle I've noticed has become more pronounced on all our horses is subclavius. This muscle extends from the front of the shoulder and between the forelegs. I do not have much control over the names of all these muscles. What has caused me to notice it is that it looks like the horse has a shoulder that slopes forward instead of more straight down. Hope you understand what I mean. At least it looks like the horse's neck is more naturally raised. A bit like if you imagine a horse in collection. The fun of it is that one would think that such a muscle evolved when riding the horse in a collected frame. But our horses are primarily been trained in a stretch for the last 4 months.
The muscles belong to a group of muscles that help stabilize the shoulder. If these muscles are underdeveloped, the horse looses its "suspension system" or "shock absorbers" in the forehand. This causes the horse to put unnecessarily strain on its joints. Together with trapezius these muscles help to "lift" the horse's forehand.
The pectoral muscles belong to the above group. These muscles extend between the forelegs and get a little up on the side of the horse behind the front legs. Here they are in contact with the girth. If the saddle is unstable and the girth is tightened a lot, these muscles may become sore and tense.
One might imagine that if these muscles become sore, the horse is struggling to move the forelegs correctly. They must be strong, flexible and loose.
No muscles should be tense when the horse is standing and relaxing. And no single muscles should step out extremely. If the horse is sore and tense in some muscles, you have to consider if the training is correct and/or check your saddle.
Many horses will benefit from getting help from an osteopath or chiropractor. I like to have the horses checked regularly. Most times I can feel if something is wrong, but like us people horses can also have some disparities here and there. And I think it's nice to get it fixed so the horse does not get sore.
I think it's easier to see the development when you see the horse in reality. However, I hope that the photos can nevertheless give an idea of what to look for.