Body Condition Scoring in horses

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

Body Condition Scoring infograph

Don Henneke, PhD, developed the Henneke Body Condition Scoring system for use in horses during his doctoral studies at Texas A & M University. The 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 can be effectively used, no matter the breed, age, or reproductive status of a horse.

In order to accurately assess a horse’s Body Condition Score (BCS), you must visually assess and touch the animal. 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, especially on a horse that has a long winter haircoat

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 Body Condition Scoring will help you begin to determine the overall health and well-being of the animal. You should aim for a Body Condition Scoring 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 eXtension.org to learn more about Body Condition Scoring.


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