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4-H Science Blast Activities: Scoring Your Horse


May 7, 2020 - Author:

Educational Elements

Key Concept:

Awareness of animal body characteristics and utilization of the body conditioning scoring system to analyze a horse’s physical condition


The Scoring Your Horse lesson plan is designed to assist leaders in teaching students about the different body condition scores of horses. Participants will view a video and then take part in a hands-on activity to help them understand which characteristics of an animal’s body contribute to this score. Understanding a horse’s body condition score can assist in making nutrition and management decisions.

Age Level:

Ages 13 to 15

Life Skills:

Communication, critical thinking and teamwork

Success Indicators:

After completing this activity, participants will be able to: 

  • Determine why it is important to know the body condition score of an animal. 
  • Identify the factors affecting the body condition of animals. 
  • Identify body condition scores of horses and assess if management decisions should be made in order to change or maintain that score. 
  • Identify the six body parts of a horse that will help determine its body condition.

Materials & Methods

Preparation Time:

15–20 minutes

Lesson Time:

30–45 minutes


An outdoor or indoor space where participants can easily hear; seating is optional.


  • Flipcharts or other large paper (enough for demonstration) (Flipcharts are large sticky notes that are usually 25 inches by 30 inches that you can buy at office supply stores.)
  • Markers
  • For the body cavities: empty toilet paper rolls or foam balls such as foam footballs
  • For the ribs and bones: pipe cleaners, bendable straws or some type of string such as shoelaces
  • For the fat layers: cotton balls, socks or tissues
  • For the skin: nylons, balloons, aluminum foil or clear plastic wrap
  • Clear tape or liquid glue for each team
  • Resealable plastic sandwich bags (one per team)
  • “Horse Body Condition Scores and Descriptions” handout (one for each participant)
  • Large copy of “Six Areas of Focus for Equine Body Condition Scoring” (Figure 1)
  • Tape to hang Figure 1.
  • The Introduction to Equine Body Condition Scoring video:


  • Accentuated – Standing out; noticeable. 
  • Conformation – Form; structure. 
  • Discernible – Seen; recognized. 
  • Emaciated – Abnormally thin. 
  • Lumbar processes – The vertebrae between the rib cage and the pelvis. 
  • Prominent – Standing out; noticeable. 
  • Spinous processes – The bony projection of the back of each vertebra. 
  • Tailhead – The base of the tail. 
  • Transverse processes – The bony projection of the left and right side of each vertebra. 
  • Withers – The ridge between the shoulder blades of the horse.

Background Information:

Dr. Don Henneke developed a body conditioning scoring system that has provided a standard for the horse industry to use across breeds and by all people. The system assigns a score of 1 to 9 to a particular body condition. This is an improvement over rating the animal using vague words such as “good,” “fair” or “bad,” which can have different meanings to different people.

The horse’s body condition measures the balance between the food it eats and the amount of energy it burns. Body condition can be affected by a variety of factors such as food availability, reproductive activities, weather, performance or work activities, parasites, dental problems and feeding practices. Since the body condition of a horse will affect its overall health, it is important to achieve and maintain proper body condition.

The “Horse Body Condition Scores and Descriptions” handout is adapted from a table in an article in the Equine Veterinary Journal (Henneke, Potter, Kreider, & Yeates, 1983), which describes Dr. Henneke’s body conditioning scoring system. You will use this handout to help teach this lesson.


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