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There are many things which influence whether a horse has a nice 'top line' on it's neck. These can include:
Let's face it, a horse looks much better if it does look the part and the build of it's neck sure does go a long way to impressing.
Gainsborough Donner Bella. The other end of the spectrum is perhaps this horse. Not his fault, he was a lovely boy :)
Without going into this subject in detail, it greatly helps if you buy a horse that is born with the neck coming out of the body properly. Many are not. Not only are you facing an uphill battle to build a top line but indeed, to ride Dressage if that is what you want. Another very large subject.
click to enlarge
Certain horses that
have 'live on the edge' and high stress levels can also build under
muscle of the neck and to de-generate the top line. The ones that
stand around the paddock all day looking like a 'Lama'. Like this:
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So conformation plays a big part and can make riding such a horse in any sophisticated fashion, almost impossible as you are constantly fighting the natural inclination to go the other way.
Here is the neck of a horse ridden by Mrs. HP and she is 100% consistent with her expectation of the horse to not resist and to be in 'self carriage'
Certain feeding can assist in the building of top line. Don't ask me why but you see them occasionally make that claim. I have observed one such feed and found that it did appear to work. However, one should never rely on that as a fix.
GIMMICKS AND TRAINING
From a ridden point of view, there is no doubt that rider training falls down badly. We do not meet a lot of people who truly know how to ride a horse (without gimmicks) and to have it going so as to constantly improve the top line. Those that cannot do it should then use whatever available gimmick that can at least still build the correct muscle development, until such time as they do know how to ride it. Either that or stay right away from the mouth of the horse.
Here I recommend running reins as a no damage option and certainly the 'Market Harborough' for ridden work. I think that this piece of equipment is very under rated and can not only sort out the way of going of the horse but is like having 'training wheels' for the rider for every time the horse is in an acceptable frame and not resisting, the running rein of the equipment disengages and leaves the rider to do it and feel it for themselves.
So there is a brief over view of some of the causes of problems with the neck outline of horses and definitely what not to buy. I have to say it again, if you do not know how to put a horse's head where it should be from an English performance perspective, stay away from their mouth. You cannot ride like this:
Hi Mr and Mrs
Loose reins at the walk and 'on the bit' and 'round' at the trot and canter. I don't mean to extend this to endurance type work though. Too much of an ask.
THE FULL PACKAGE
Of course, top line is not just about the neck of the horse and we should be aiming to build the complete set of longitudinal muscles of the horse. The terms "over it's back', 'giving it's back', relaxing it's back' are all about building the muscles right along the top of the horse. Horses need these to be fully developed in order to have the rider carrying capacity and so on. I said on my 'day in a life' recently, that the Dressage Judge's term, 'horse not engaged' is directly connected to the term 'giving it's back' for without the one, you cannot have the other imho. Unfortunately though, this is where most run into trouble as not many can truly do it. Only lessons from 'been there, done that' Dressage Coaches, not 'Hack Coaches' can give any remote chance of the knowledge being gained. They can mouth the words all day (as they do) but unless they know how to achieve it themselves, under saddle, they can never truly teach it!
For a rider to achieve the building of a good top line, they must have the ability to train the horse to be consistently soft and round. Not hanging against the bit and resisting as this is exercising the under muscles of the neck, not the top ones. That is why I write articles like this and they should be read in conjunction.