Body Condition Scoring in horses

Use the Body Condition Scoring system to easily and effectively determine your horse’s relative body fat.

June 11, 2012 - Author: ,

The equine Body Condition Scoring (BCS) system is designed to assess relative body fat without anything other than your hands, eyes and a little experience. Using this system, horses are assigned a number on a scale of one to nine; one being very emaciated and thin and nine being extremely obese. This scale is independent of breed, discipline or age of a horse. In order to accurately assess a horse’s BCS, you must not only visually assess but touch the animal as well. Feeling the horse’s ribs for example, can help you estimate the depth of fat coverage. This is something that is difficult (or impossible) to simply assess visually.

Below are specific descriptions of the scores 1 - 9:

  1. Poor: Animal extremely emaciated; spine and bone structure noticeable, no fatty tissue can be felt.
  2. Very Thin: Bony structures of the neck, shoulders and withers are faint. Spine, ribs, point of hip and buttock are prominent.
  3. Thin: Slight fat cover over ribs; spine and ribs easily seen, but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually. Tailhead is prominent but hips are rounded.
  4. Moderately Thin: Neck, withers and shoulders are not obviously thin. Ribs are faint. Fat can be felt around tailhead.
  5. Moderate: Back is flat; ribs felt but not easily seen; fat around tail head beginning to feel spongy; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.
  6. Moderately Fleshy: Slight crease down back; fat over ribs and tail head spongy; slight fat along the side of withers, behind shoulders, and along sides of neck
  7. Fleshy: Slight crease down back; ribs can be felt but not seen, noticeable filling between ribs with fat; fat around tail head: fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck
  8. Fat: Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs; fat around tail head very soft; noticeable thickening of neck; fat deposited along inner thighs
  9. Extremely Fat: Obvious crease down back; patchy fat appearing over ribs: bulging fat around tail head, along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck; fat along inner thighs may rub together; flank filled with fat

Understanding your horse’s current BCS will help you begin to determine the overall health and well-being of the animal. You should aim for a BCS between four and six depending on your horse’s current job. Additionally, this information will help you decide appropriate nutritional requirements as well as exercise schedules.

Check out this Learning Lesson from MSU Extension to learn more about Body Condition Scoring.

Tags: 4-h, agriculture, horses, msu extension, science & engineering

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