Call us 24/7 - 1-800-461-8898

Hard Keepers: Filling out in the Hip


My 8-year-old Quarter Horse is on high-quality grain and a regular deworming program, but he’s just not filling out in the hip area. He’s at a good weight otherwise, possibly even a bit overweight. He’s started regular training and is about to be broke to saddle. Is there anything I can do to get him to fill out?

You pose an interesting question, however without seeing a picture of your horse, I’m not positive that you and I are on the same page. One way that veterinarians, nutritionists, and other horse health care professionals can ensure they’re talking apples to apples with owners is by utilizing the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale.

Developed at Texas A & M University in the 80s, the BCS scale provides a standardized scoring system that takes into account the amount of fat cover a horse has in certain parts of his body:

1 = emaciated
2 = very thin
3 = thin
4 = moderately thin
5 = ideal or moderate
6 = moderately fleshy
7 = fleshy
8 = very fleshy (fat)
9 = very fat (obese)

There are six areas on the horse’s body where the degree of body fat is assessed. These are 1) the neck, 2) the area behind the shoulder, 3) the withers, 4) the ribs, 5) the loin, and 6) the 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!

Some disciplines (e.g. racing) and some life stages (e.g. pregnancy) prefer a lower or higher BCS than the ideal or moderate “5.” 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.

So I suggest you officially body condition score your horse to establish some baseline values that will help determine if your horse is at a good weight (5) or overweight (6 and above). At the same time, have your veterinarian perform a complete physical examination on him to make sure there are no underlying medical reasons for the problem you describe. This would also be a good time to pick your vet’s brain about why your horse is overweight (if he is) but lacking hip muscle development (if that’s the issue).

Once everyone is on the same page, a plan can be developed to address the problem, which may incorporate medical treatment, feed changes, training approaches, or some other solution, depending on what the primary issue is determined to be. However, your horse may just need to be in regular work to “fill out” so I suspect you may observe a positive difference once his under saddle career begins!

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+

Posted in Ask the Vet

Recent Posts

3 comments on “Hard Keepers: Filling out in the Hip
  1. Ethel says:

    I have four horses and i would like to know if riding one a day and running the others in the round pen is this plenty exercise for warm weather in Arizona which runs between 105 and 115 degrees in the summer months.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Ethel, thanks for asking, and it’s great to hear that you’re working to develop an exercise program for your horses. I’ll assume that at least a part of your goal is to help them maintain your horses at an ideal weight, and if you can keep them all active each day, that sounds like a good place to start without knowing any more about your horses. I would definitely recommend that you strike up a conversation with your veterinarian to discuss the horses’ programs in more detail where you can take into account each horse’s body condition, and what (if any) special needs your they might have in terms of exercise. – Dr. Lydia Gray

  2. Giulia says:

    Hello Kay, My name is Barb K and I live in Wisconsin. We have a mutual fneird here that I would like to talk with you about. I’m concerned about her and could use some advise. I’ve known Midders since he was 3!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Share it:
You'll this

SmartCombo™ Senior Pellets

As Low As: $57.95
(267 reviews)
Healthy Horses  ❤  Happy Riders