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A Universal Scale To Assess Horse's Body Condition

The first body condition assessment scale that could be used on any breed of horse was developed in 1980 by Don Henneke at Texas A & M University. It was first published in 1983, to be used as a means to assess the bodyweight of a horse. In the equine world of rescues, rehabilitation centers, and sanctuaries, having a horse at their optimal weight for their health is crucial. The body scoring system is simple and doesn't require any special tools. You simply inspect the horse’s body for the amount of fat present or not present over key areas by visualizing or palpating. Scores can range from one extremely thin, to nine extremely overweight. The ideal weight of a horse can range from four to six, depending on the breed, age, and sex of the horse. This method has been adopted by law enforcement agencies and animal cruelty specialists.

I have provided below a chart to use to help identify the body condition of any horse:

Horses accumulate body fat in different areas, they get fat first in the girth, then over their rib cage, 3rd by the croup of their tail, 4th their back, 5th over the withers, and lastly in their neck area.  I have included a diagram for you to locate the various areas where fat is stored on the horses body.

A score of 1: The horse is very poor, extremely emaciated, the hip bones, ribs, and tail head project prominently, the bony structures of the withers, shoulders, and neck are easily visible. There are no fat deposits.

A score of 2: The horse is emaciated slight fat covering over vertebrae. The back bone, ribs, tail head, hip bones are prominent. The withers, shoulders and neck structures are discernable.

A score of 3: Fat built up halfway on vertebrae, slight fat layer can be felt over ribs, but ribs are easily discernable. The tail head is evident, but individual vertebrae can not be seen. Hip bones can not be seen. But withers, shoulders, and neck are emphasized. 

A score of 4: Negative crease along back. Faint outline of ribs can be seen. Fat can be felt along tail head. Hip bones can not be seen. Withers, neck and shoulders not seen.

A score of 5: Back is level, ribs can be felt, but not easily seen. Fat around tail head starts to feel spongy. Withers are rounded, neck and shoulders blend smoothly into the body.

A score of 6: May have a slight crease down the back. Fat on tail head is soft, fat over ribs is spongy, fat starts being deposited along the withers, behind shoulders, and into neck area.

A score of 7: Moderately fleshy, crease down back, individual ribs can be felt, but there is noticeable fat filling in between the ribs, fat around tailhead is soft. Noticeable fat is deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along neck.

A score of 8: The crease down the back is prominent. Ribs difficult to feel due to fat deposited over ribs. Fat around tailhead very soft. Withers filled in with fat, shoulders filled in with fat all the way to barrel of the horse. There is very noticeable thickening of the neck.  Fat deposited into inner buttocks.

A score of 9: Obvious crease down back. Fat in patches over ribs, bulging fat over tail head, withers, neck, behind shoulders. Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. Flank is filled in with fat flush with barrel.

I hope that this information is easy for you to understand and use in your daily work with horses of all breeds, and sizes.

Dr. Dana Price 

Dr. Dana Price
Published on 2020-06-10