Horse Body Condition
As seen in Equus Extra
When you see your horse every day, slow, subtle fluctuations in weight can be easy to miss, especially under a winter coat or blanket. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition so you can catch developing changes earlier.
One of the most objective ways to evaluate a horse’s weight, short of walking him onto a scale in a veterinary hospital, is to learn to determine his body condition score (BCS), a method of ranking body fat on a scale from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat) developed in 1983 by Don Henneke, PhD.
When horses develop fat, they tend to store it in distinct places just under the skin where it can be easily seen and felt. And they lay fat in certain parts of the body in a particular order—first over the heart and the ribs, then over the rump and back, forward to the withers, and last over the neck. As a result, the specific location of stored fat can tell you how overweight the horse is.
If your horse has a “weight problem” —whether he needs to lose or gain—his feed ration will obviously be central to the solution. An overweight horse needs to consume fewer calories and/or exercise more. But simply cutting back on your horse’s regular feed is not a good idea if it means you’ll be shortchanging his nutrition. Instead, consider switching to a lower-calorie feed meant for easy keepers. Ration balancer products can help ensure your horse gets all of the vitamins and minerals he needs if you need to reduce or eliminate his concentrates.
So what’s your horse’s body condition score?
score: 1 (Poor) • Extreme emaciation. • Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and hooks and pins are prominent. • Bone structure of withers, shoulder and neck is easily noticeable. • No fatty tissue can be felt.
score: 2 (Very thin) • Emaciated. • Thin layer of fat over base of spinous processes. • Transverse0 processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. • Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and hooks and pins are prominent. • Withers, shoulders and neck structures are faintly discernible.
score: 3 (thin) • Fat about halfway up spinous processes; transverse processes cannot be felt. • Thin fat layer over ribs. • Spinous processes and ribs are easily discernible. • Tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. • Hook bones appear rounded but not easily discernible. • Pin bones not distinguishable. • Withers, shoulders and neck are accentuated.
score: 4 (Moderately thin) • Ridge along back. • Faint outline of ribs discernible. • Tailhead prominence depends on conformation; fat can be felt around it. • Hook bones not discernible. • Withers, shoulders and neck are not obviously thin.
score: 5 (Moderate) • Back is level. • Ribs cannot be visually distinguished but can be easily felt. • Fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy. • Withers appear rounded over spinous processes. • Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.
score: 6 (Moderate to fleshy) • May have slight crease down back. • Fat over ribs feels soft and spongy. • Fat around tailhead feels soft. • Fat beginning to be deposited along sides of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck.
score: 7 (Fleshy) • May have crease down back. • Individual ribs can be felt, with noticeable filling between ribs with fat. • Fat around tailhead is soft. • Fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders, along neck
score: 8 (Fat) • Crease down back. • Difficult to feel ribs. • Fat around tailhead very soft. • Area along withers filled with fat. • Area behind shoulder filled in. • Noticeable thickening of neck. • Fat deposited along inner buttocks.
score: 9 (extremely fat) • Obvious crease down back. • Patchy fat appearing over ribs. • Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. • Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. • Flank filled in flush.