International event rider Ludwig Svennerstal explains how to improve a horse's topline after a break over winter.
Try this exercise
Lots of shoulder-in on a circle will really help to strengthen your horse's topline. This exercise can be used together with trot to canter transitions.
Start by doing shoulder-in on a circle in trot. Squeeze with your inside calf to stop your horse falling in and have a slight contact in your outside rein to stop him drifting out. Aim for the same amount of bend in his neck as you have in his body.
While on a circle, move your horse forwards into canter, while maintaining a shoulder-in, until he's relaxed. Bring him back to trot, again until he's relaxed and then go back to canter.
Keep a light contact on the reins, with gentle pressure from your inside leg. When asking for the canter, you need to 'think' it, rather than over-using your leg. This way, you'll be asking with your seat. You want your horse to be sensitive to your aids and thinking forwards as soon as you ask him.
If your horse doesn't react to your aids as well as you'd like, give him a bit of a kick. Only kick once and then release the pressure.
Before making a transition back down to trot, use a quick half-halt on the rein to make sure he's listening to you.