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Under, Over, or Ideal


You be the judge
It’s hard to resist the urge to squeal over how adorable a chubby pony is, but unfortunately, overweight horses and ponies aren’t cute — they’re unhealthy. Being too thin also comes with risks and health concerns. But who decides whether a horse is too fat, too thin, or just right? You do, thanks to the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale! Developed by Dr. Don Henneke and universally used by veterinarians, nutritionists, and other equine health professionals, the scale provides a standard scoring system for horse owners and professionals to use when evaluating a horse’s fat cover. The scale ranges from “1,” which is the thinnest, to “9,” which is the fattest, making “5” the ideal score for most breeds and disciplines. Take a look at these horses and try your hand at body condition scoring. Are they under, over, or ideal? Not sure how to body condition score a horse? Here’s a guide!


Breed: Thoroughbred
Discipline: Hunter
Age: 7
Height: 16.3hh

Body Condition Score: Slide to judge!

↑ Drag the slider to rate!


Breed: Quarter Horse
Discipline: Western Trail Riding
Age: 5
Height: 15.1hh

Body Condition Score: Slide to judge!


Breed: Welsh Pony
Discipline: Children’s Lessons
Age: 14
Height: 14hh

Body Condition Score: Slide to judge!

Da Vinci

Breed: Thoroughbred
Discipline: Future Jumper
Age: 4
Height: 16.1hh

Body Condition Score: Slide to judge!

The Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale

Following trends in your horse’s weight is an important part of tracking his overall health.
Using a weight tape is one way, but it’s just as important to regularly estimate his body condition, or amount of fat cover. The Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale that we’ll use throughout this article is an excellent tool for taking this measurement because it provides a standard system for you, your veterinarian, and other equine professionals to use and compare. It runs from “1,” which is “poor” (the thinnest) to “9,” which is “extremely fat” (the fattest). A score of “5,” or “moderate,” is ideal for most breeds and disciplines. However, in some equine sports (like racing) and some life stages (like pregnancy), a higher or lower score than the moderate “5” may be preferred.


When body condition scoring your horse, you evaluate the amount of fat cover he has. There are six areas on the horse’s body (shown above) where the degree of body fat in relation to muscle is assessed.
When evaluating the level of fat in each location, be sure to feel the thickness with your hands — looks can be deceiving! Assign a numerical value to each area, then average them to come up with one final score.

Animal is 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.

Animal is emaciated; slight fat covering over tops and sides of vertebrae, but the vertebrae, ribs, tailhead, pelvic bones are still prominent; withers, shoulder, and neck structure faintly discernible.

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.

Slight ridge along back; faint outline of ribs discernible; tailhead 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.

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.

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

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

8 FAT:
Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs; fat around tailhead very soft; area along withers filled with fat; area behind shoulder filled with fat; noticeable thickening of neck; fat deposited along inner thighs.

Obvious crease down back; patchy fat appearing over ribs; bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck; fat along inner thighs may rub together; flank filled with fat.

Henneke DR, Potter GD, Kreider JL, Yeates BF. Relationship between condition score, physical measurements and body fat percentage in mares. Equine Vet J. 1983 Oct;15(4):371-2.



Posted in Health & Nutrition, Quizzes

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4 comments on “Under, Over, or Ideal
  1. Crystal Wylie says:

    I just discovered this segment…We will be using it in one of our pony club study sessions….The “name your rating” first…is and excellent way to make people think first and truly get the feel for what they are looking for…Im still studying!. Thanks

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      That’s so awesome to hear! We’re honored to have you use this as a teaching tool. Please let us know what they think 🙂

      -SmartPaker Bjorn

  2. Andie says:

    This is great. I love “puzzles” so making this sort of into a game is cool. This will sound weird, but I wish there had been more underweight houses listed. I rescued a horse a couple of years ago and in fairly certain it was a 1, but it would be nice to see more examples just to be sure.

  3. Linda Faye Hudson says:

    So glad to be reminded of how my mare should look. Hard to keep the middle slim. She’s a 6 now, but this summer she was a 5!!!
    Thanks for the great scoring system.

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