How To Body Condition Score Your Horse

Being able to follow trends in your horse’s weight is important in tracking his overall health. One method is to use a weight tape or calculate his weight from the heart girth and length formula. However, it is just as important to regularly estimate your horse’s body condition, or amount of fat cover.

An excellent tool for this taking this measurement is the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale, because it provides a standard scoring system for you, your veterinarian, your nutritionist and other health care professionals to use and compare. The scale ranges from a “1” which is the thinnest to a “9” which is the fattest—a score of “5” is ideal for most breeds and disciplines:

There are six areas on the horse’s body where the degree of body fat in relation to body muscle is assessed. These are the neck, the area behind the shoulder, the withers, ribs, loin (lumbar vertebrae), and tailhead. When evaluating the level of fat in each of these locations it is important to feel its thickness with your hands as well as visualize it because looks can be deceiving! Using the descriptive chart below, assign a numerical value to each area then average them to come up with one final number.

Improve your skill at equine body condition scoring by evaluating as many different horses as possible, assessing the six areas in the same order each time so that you develop your own system. You’ll find that in some disciplines (for example racing) and some life stages (like pregnancy) a higher or lower score than the moderate “5” might be preferred. Also, some extremes in conformation (such as very high withers or a swayback) can make evaluating the degree of fat cover for a certain area challenging. In some cases, you may have to throw out one or two of the six scores before averaging the rest to come up with a single numerical value. And because some horses didn’t read the book, it’s okay to record an in-between score like 4.5 or 6.5 using half points.

1=Poor
Animal extremely emaciated; vertebrae, ribs, tailhead, and pelvic bones projecting prominently; bone structure of withers, shoulders, and neck easily noticeable, no fatty tissue can be felt

2=Very thin
Animal emaciated; slight fat covering over tops and sides of vertebrae but the vertebrae, ribs, tail head, pelvic bones are still prominent; withers, shoulder, and neck structure faintly discernible

3=Thin
Fat buildup about halfway on tops of vertebrae; sides of vertebrae cannot be felt; slight fat cover over ribs; vertebrae and ribs easily discernible; tailhead prominent but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually; sides of pelvis appear rounded but easily discernible; back of pelvis not distinguishable; withers, shoulders, and neck accentuated.

4=Moderately thin
Slight ridge along back; faint outline of ribs discernible; tail head prominence depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it; the side of the pelvis is not discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck not obviously thin

5=Moderate
Back is flat (no crease or ridge); ribs not visually distinguishable but easily felt; fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy; withers appear rounded over vertebrae; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body

6=Moderately fleshy
May have slight crease down back; fat over ribs spongy; fat around tail head soft; fat beginning to be deposited along the side of withers, behind shoulders, and along the sides of neck.

7=Fleshy
May have crease down back; individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat; fat around tail head soft; fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along neck.

8=Fat
Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs; fat around tail head very soft; area along withers filled with fat; area behind shoulder filled with fat; 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.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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7 comments on “How To Body Condition Score Your Horse
  1. Chris says:

    Are there any photos showing an example of each of the scores? I think that would be very helpful to visualize with the article.

  2. Ilene Roberts says:

    there should be some photos that are on this scale to see what the different points look like. do you know of a resource online that provides photos?
    and thank you for the info!!

  3. cathy says:

    Another vote in the “pictures, please!” department. Thanks :) This is good stuff.

  4. imanurbancowgirl says:

    Habitat for horses has this one with illustrations:
    http://www.habitatforhorses.org/rescues/bodyscoring.html

  5. Jenn says:

    This is always tough when it comes to certain breeds. For instance, I own quarter horses. It seems they are always fat. I have a 4 year old QH that I feel is in great shape. She’s worked daily and looks good. However, my vet and trainer think shes a little overweight. I have a hard time telling when it comes to quarter horses. Is there an easier way to judge when it comes to them?

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