One of the most common issues with our horses is that of the topline. The muscles over the top of the neck, back, and hindquarters are what reflect athleticism and a healthy appearance to our eyes.
Of course, we cannot control genetics. Some horses are born with strong back, neck and hindquarter muscles, can live in a field, and have a good topline; while others can be fed pounds of feed and added supplements and still not have the topline the owner or trainer desires.
The process of building muscles up also includes the process of muscle break-down. Stand ringside at any CDI or CSIO and you will see top dressage and jumpers who don’t have wow-factor toplines. It can be much more challenging to add topline to a very fit horse than one that is not so fit.
Topline can be developed with specific nutrition: protein providing the essential amino acids and the BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids), anti oxidants such as Vitamin E, and minerals such as Selenium. Combine nutrition with exercise, including hill work, and training that focuses on correct use of back, neck, and hindquarters.
Topline can also be affected by ill-fitting saddles, weight loss, poor shoeing, EPM, EPSM, PSSM, Cushings Disease, and Lyme Disease. Older horses can lose their toplines as part of the aging process.
The Protein Connection:
Protein is made up of chains of amino acids, which are absorbed from the small intestine. Twenty different amino acids are needed for protein synthesis; however 10 of these amino acids known as essential amino acids must be supplied to the horse through the diet. These amino acids come from quality protein sources like alfalfa, whey, hemp, peas, and eggs that provide all the essential amino acids including Lysine and the BCAAs. Feeds that are over-processed can reduce the Biological Value (BV) of the protein and may not be well absorbed by the horse.
Some feeds and supplements contain soy as a quality protein source. There are issues to be aware of when using soy as a source of protein for horses: soy phytogestrogens can disrupt endocrine function; almost all the soy used for horses and livestock is genetically modified to withstand being sprayed with glyphosate: Roundup. According to Monsanto’s own research Roundup Ready soybeans contain 29% less choline, and 27% more of the trypsin inhibitor than conventional soybeans.
Trypsin inhibitors can interfere with protein digestion. Studies have also shown that levels of lectins, which are culprits in soy allergies, are nearly double in Roundup Ready soybeans. One of the leading scientists in plant pathology, Dr. Don Huber, has identified a new pathogen from Roundup exposure that has increased infertility in livestock.
Understanding Whey protein:
Whey protein from cows’ milk comes in various forms: isolate, concentrate, and hydrolyzed. One of the most bioavailable forms of whey protein is un-denatured whey protein concentrate. This means that the whey has undergone minimal processing: single flash pasteurization that does not require high heat. This method ensures that the active peptides, immunoglobins, and serum albumin are intact as they would be in raw milk. Un-denatured whey protein has twice the amounts of the individual BCAAs as peas or highly processed whey protein. This is important especially in the case of the amino acid Leucine, which plays a vital role in reducing muscle breakdown.
If you are feeding your horse a supplement with whey protein, you may want to check with the company to see if the whey comes from cows are grass fed, r-BGH free, and antibiotic free.
The Role of Leucine:
The amino acid leucine plays important roles in the synthesis of new muscle, increased muscle and muscle breakdown. A metabolite of Leucine called HMB inhibits muscle breakdown.
Whey protein is one of the richest sources of this important amino acid. Hemp, Egg, and Pea Protein: These three protein sources provide the essential amino acids including lysine, and the BCAAs. Like other whole food protein sources such as alfalfa they also provide other nutritional components: hemp provides edestin and albumin proteins as well as fiber and key minerals such as zinc and magnesium.
Egg protein is high in sulfur-containing amino acids such as methionine, which play a critical role in cell metabolism and protein synthesis. Pasteurized, whole egg protein ensures that biotin will not be depleted. Pea protein is a rich source of arginine, the amino acid that stimulates nitric oxide, and is the precursor of creatine to help the maintenance of ATP for more muscle power.
The Importance of vitamin E:
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which provides a protective benefit to muscles because it helps recovery from oxidative stress. Good sources of vitamin E include camelina oil, almonds, and sunflower seeds.
The Role of Selenium:
Selenium is important for its role in maintaining muscle health through its antioxidant activity. Selenium is a component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which protects lipid membranes.
On the Human Side:
Trends in body-building and high performance athletics are focused on using a variety of protein sources including whey, eggs, peas, and hemp because these different proteins are digested at different rates in the body. For instance, whey protein is a fast digesting protein source, while hemp and alfalfa are a slower digesting protein source due to the fiber content.
Building and maintaining topline takes time. Consider using a variety of protein sources like alfalfa pellets with Biostar’s Rebound EQ or Biostar’s Locomotion EQ to provide additional protein sources for muscle building and slowing muscle breakdown.
Pull blood on your horse at least once a year to check selenium and Vitamin E levels. Make sure there is variety of work in your training: cavaletti, hill work, transitions. Walking on different surfaces: hard, soft, and grass will help muscles as well as ligaments and tendons.