Equine Body Condition Score

There has been much discussion and many papers presented on Equine Metabolic Syndrome and how weight gain and obesity in horses should be avoided to prevent such ailments as insulin resistance, increased insulin and leptin blood levels and laminitis, but how many of us actually know the basics of equine body condition scoring?

We can look at our horse and say, "yep, he looks good", or "oh my gosh, he's fat!", but can we actually put our horses in the score classification?  Below, is a handy chart that you can use to determine what body condition score your horse actually fits in.

Main areas to look at for body condition scoring

Score Description
1 POOR:Horse is extremely emaciated.  The backbone, ribs, hipbones, and tail-head project prominently.  Bone structure of the withers, shoulders, and neck easily noticeable.  No fatty tissues can be felt.
2 VERY THIN: Horse is emaciated.  Slight fat covering over vertebrae.  Backbone, ribs, tail-head, and hipbones are prominent.  Withers, shoulders, and neck structures are discernible.
3 THIN:Fat built up about halfway on vertebrae.  Slight fat layer can be felt over ribs, but ribs easily discernible.  The tail-head is evident, but individual vertebrae cannot be seen.  The hipbones cannot be seen, but withers, should, and neck are emphasized.
4 MODERATELY THIN: Negative crease along back.  Faint outline of ribs can be seen.  Fat can be felt along tail-head.  Hip bones cannot be seen.  Withers, neck, and shoulders not obviously thin.
5 MODERATE:Back is level.  Ribs can be felt, but not easily seen.  Fat around tail-head beginning to feel spongy.  Withers are rounded and shoulders and neck blend smoothly into the body.
6 MODERATELY FLESHY: May have a slight crease down the back.  Fat on the tail-head feels soft.  Fat over the ribs feels spongy.  Fat beginning to be deposited along the sides of the ithers, behind the shoulders, and along the neck.
7 FLESHY: A crease is seen down the back.  Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeably filling between ribs with fat.  Fat around tail-head is soft.  Noticeable fat deposited along the withers, behind the shoulders, and along the neck.
8 FAT:Crease down back is prominent.  Ribs difficult to feel due to fat in between.  Fat around tail-head very soft.  Area along withers filled with fat.  Area behind shoulders filled in flush with the barrel of the body.  Noticeable thickening of neck.  Fat deposited along the inner buttocks.
9 EXTREMELY FAT: Obvious crease down back.  Fat is in patches over rib area, with bulging fat over tail-head, withers, neck and behind shoulders.  Fat along inner buttocks may rub together.  Flank is filled in flush with the barrel of the body.

Body Condition Scores for Different Disciplines  according to The Henneke System of Body Scoring

The Henneke System of Body Condition Scoring also uses the above 1-9 scale to rate a horse's overall body condition.  A horse with a body condition score of 1 is emaciated and in most cases in danger of starving to death while a horse with a body condition score of 9 is extremely obese.  According to the Henneke System, normal healthy horses have a body condition score from 4-7.

The following chart displays "normal" body condition scores for horses in a variety of working conditions:

Endurance 4-5
Eventing 4-5
Polo 4-5
Ranch 4-5
Open mare 4-6
Stallion (off season) 5-7
Standardbred racehorse 4-6
Thoroughbred racehorse 4-6
Hunter 5-7
Show Jumper 5-7
Breeding stallion 4-6
Dressage 5-7
Quarter Horse 5-7
Show hack 5-7
Pony 6-8
Pregnant mare 6-8

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  1. […] Overweight horses will have a harder time dealing with the heat with the added body fat which acts as insulation trapping  body heat it makes it more difficult for the horse to cool off.  Working an overweight horse in the heat is an excellent way to end up with a sick animal! […]

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