What does a Topline Score mean?

The Top-Line Evaluation System (TES) assesses your horse’s overall muscle development. Muscle over the back, loin, hip and hindquarters enable your horse to lengthen, elevate, stop and turn and to drive. The TES is a visual and hands-on assessment of a horse’s topline from the withers back through and including the hip area.

The three areas to evaluate include:

  • The withers to the mid-back
  • The mid-back to the top of the hip or croup
  • Over the hip and down through the hindquarters

One of four letter grades are then assigned to the horse, based on the adequacy of muscling in those areas.

Topline Score: A - Ideal

This Horse Has Ideal Muscle Development:

  • The topline muscles are well developed in all three areas, the spinal processes cannot be seen, and the muscles blend smoothly into the ribs
  • The wither/back and loin of the horse is full and well rounded
  • The croup and hip are full and the stifle muscle is well defined


Topline Score: B

The Sides of the Wither are Concave, as is the Back Between the Vertebrae and the Top of the Ribs:

  • The loin muscles are well developed and are the same height as the spinal process
  • The croup and the hip muscling is adequate; pelvis to point of hip is rounded


Topline Score: C

The Wither/Back and Loin Areas, Between the Vertebrae and the Ribs, are Concave:

  • The ‘spinal process’ in the loin area is higher than the muscles beside it and can easily be seen and palpated
  • Muscles over the croup and hindquarters are well developed and rounded


Topline Score: D

The Entire Topline, Including the Wither/Back, Loin, and Croup Areas, are Concave:

  • The croup appears pointed at the top since the vertebrae and hip bones are higher than the concave muscles in between them
  • In a severely affected horse, the width of its stifle is narrower than the width of the point of hip


Improving the Topline

There is a common misconception that work builds muscle (link underline to exercise article). Work alone conditions and trains muscles that the horse already has. A balanced diet (link underline to nutrition article) containing the necessary levels of all of the essential amino acids (link underline to amino acid article) will improve topline muscles.

How long does it take to correct an inadequate topline?

Once the diet is balanced and adequate amino acids are provided, it will take an average of 30 days for a horse to improve one grade. Severe cases can take up to 90 days to improve the entire topline. Muscle development starts at the hip and gradually moves forward across the back and withers.