Body condition scores

Farm Forum

When it comes to horse care, there are a few things that should be reviewed every year. Among these is body condition scoring (BCS). As with humans, it may be difficult to select an ideal weight for all horses. Breed influence and bone mass can play a big role in how much a horse might weigh. If you said that all horses should weigh 1,200 pounds, then someone raising Belgium Drafts is going to have a lot of very skinny horses on hand, while an Arabian farm might be stocked with horses a little hefty for their frame. The fact is: one size doesn’t fit all.

About Body Condition Scores (BCS)

In order to effectively manage each horse it is best to use a body condition score. This scale is set from 1 to 9, where a score of 1 would be given to a horse that is extremely emaciated, and a score of 9 to an extremely obese horse. The BCS was first described by Henneke in 1983. One advantage of the BCS is that is can be used for horses regardless of the size of their frame. Presence or absence of fat stores along key areas including the backbone, ribs, hips, tailhead, shoulder, and neck determine the score.

Brief descriptions of each score include:

1. Emaciated. No fat can be seen or felt.

2. Very thin. Ribs, hips, and vertebrae are prominent.

3. Thin. Ribs are easily discernible, but fat layers are forming over hip bones, vertebrae, and neck.

4. Moderately thin. Ribs can be faintly seen, and a negative crease is forming over the back.

5. Moderate. This horse has a more smooth appearance as a result of fat deposits over body. The ribs can be felt, but not easily seen.

6. Moderately fleshy. Fat over the tailhead, neck, and ribs will feel soft and spongy. The sides of the withers are filling in.

7. Fleshy. A crease can be seen down the back. While ribs may still be felt, there is a noticeable filling of fat between them and along the withers, neck, and behind the shoulders.

8. Fat. This horse has enough fat cover that the area behind the shoulder has blended with the barrel. The crease down the back is prominent.

9. Extremely fat. Bulging fat may be seen at tailhead, withers, neck, and behind the shoulder.

The ideal body condition score will vary depending on the use of the horse. For example, race horses tend to carry a little less condition than a sport horse used for dressage.

Regardless of the use, both ends of the scale should be avoided as horses that are too thin, or too fat will be at elevated risks for health problems. A BCS of 5 or 6 is generally a good target to maintain. Hair coats can be deceiving, as a fluffy winter coat might make a horse appear to have more body condition. Use your eyes and your hands when scoring your horses to make the most accurate assessment.

If you would like help scoring your horses, or think your horse may need a change in diet as a result of being too thin or too fat, consult your local veterinarian, nutritionist, Extension Specialist, or experienced trainer.