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Developing Your Horse’s Topline

Submitted by member: Nikala

Hi! I would love to get some dressage/flatwork advice on developing a correct topline. I have a 5-year-old Holsteiner and would love to bring out the topline his sire and dam had. Thanks so much!

Answer by Verena Mahin

Hi. In response to your question regarding developing a correct topline, it’s instrumental that you begin with the basic concept of stretching over the back and to the bit. It’s the rider’s job to develop a correct reaction from the leg to the hand. To make sure that the horse has a desire to stretch forward and downward, while still pushing correctly from behind and maintaining a nice elastic feeling in the hand.

Rhythm, suppleness, and contact are therefore the first three on the German training scale. Once a horse gains strength through many upward and downward transitions, the topline should develop into a nice strong neck and back. Once this happens, the horse is then able to correctly execute the movements required to move up the training scale while maintaining the correct balance.

Too often this very important ‘basic’ step is rushed or overlooked. It must be a constant in all the work, including if you are riding your horse in an open/competition frame (which can only be achieved correctly if the back has been developed properly).

After the longitudinal (over the back in a straight line) connection is correctly established, the lateral work can begin. Depending on the individual horse, sometimes the lateral work is beneficial earlier on. The most important things to remember are: ride the basics to death; practice, practice practice; and don’t cut corners. The rest will come!

Video Recommendation:


Suppleness – Unlocking the Gaits
Verena Mahin
A supple horse who is relaxed and whose physical and mental state indicate he enjoys his work is, of course, ideal in any discipline and especially dressage. A tense, stiff or rigid horse is unable to use his body effectively and can’t properly demonstrate rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness or collection. Join Verena Mahin as she shares her favorite exercises to attain a greater degree of suppleness that subsequently allows the horse to move with bigger, more expressive gaits.
Running Time:  32 minutes and 44 seconds

View Video

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Verena Mahin

Verena is the owner and trainer at the California based VS Dressage Inc. She has had many successes at FEI level, competing and coaching through Grand Prix. In 2011 she coached two riders representing Puerto Rico at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Verena clinics all over the country. Learn more about her and how to book a clinic at:

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