Is There a ‘Perfect’ Weight For a Horse?

My horse is approx. 15.1 hands, and is 966 lbs. What is the best weight for a horse? I have been told he needs to lose weight.
– BS, Alabama

Dear BS,

Most experts agree that the “best” weight for a horse is somewhere in the 4 to 6 range on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale, with 5 being ideal. Of course, this often depends on what you do with your horse, as racehorses and event horses are kept more on the 4 side of the scale while halter horses and hunters are kept more on the 6 end of the scale. But for general health purposes, aim for a 5.

What do all these numbers mean? Body Condition Scoring or BCS is a standard system that ranges from 1 which is the thinnest to 9 which is the fattest. Now you can see why a score of 5 is considered ideal! Using this system, the degree of body fat in relation to body muscle is evaluated both visually and by palpation in six different areas on the horse’s body: the neck, behind the shoulder, the withers, ribs, loin (lumbar vertebrae) and tailhead. (See related Ask the Vet blog: How to Body Condition Score Your Horse)

Using this system, everyone in the horse community—whether owners, trainers, veterinarians, nutritionists or others—can communicate with everyone else in the same language. Knowing the height and weight of a horse is not enough information because horses come in all shapes and sizes. But if you tell me your horse is a 7 or 8 on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale, NOW we can have a conversation about weight management! Hint: check out our small hole hay nets!

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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Posted in Ask the Vet, Basic Health Care, Weight Management

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6 comments on “Is There a ‘Perfect’ Weight For a Horse?
  1. Lisa says:

    Great article. It is so important to be able to communicate in the same language but I am always surprised how few owners are familiar with the BCS system.

  2. Alexandra says:

    I’ve read about scale several times. And I still don’t know what rate is my appaloosa mare. I can scale warmbloods, ponies.. but I’m really lost with QHs, Paints and Appaloosas who are more muscled by nature. Maybe photo examples would helps.
    How to use this scale on pregnant mares and foals?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Alexandra, thanks for your questions. First we wanted to mention that the Henneke scale is designed to be used on all breeds and types of horses, regardless of their build. This method of rating a horse’s body condition primarily consists of assessing fat cover in several key areas, which is not affected by the amount of muscle a horse has. Secondly, this system is not designed to be used on pregnant mares or foals. If you have questions on body condition for either one of these groups, our recommendation would be to have your veterinarian evaluate him or her. We also recommend taking a look at the links below for more information on Body Condition Scoring. Best of luck!

      How To Body Condition Score Your Horse: http://blog.smartpakequine.com/2011/06/how-to-body-condition-score-your-horse/

      Is There a ‘Perfect’ Weight for a Horse: http://blog.smartpakequine.com/2011/10/is-there-a-perfect-weight-for-a-horse/

  3. SmartieBreeches says:

    Basically so that the horse has a round hidquarter (no pointy hips or spine), and their ribs can be felt but no seen.

  4. I always used to read post in news papers but now as I am a user of internet therefore from now I am using
    net for articles, thanks to web.

    My webpage – dressage horses for sale

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