Body Condition Scoring

Body Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring is a visual evaluation of your horse’s weight and shape as a whole. The scoring system is used to assess the condition of your horse, however every horse is different and knowing your horse well will help you assess them. For example, a Thoroughbred will be less likely to carry ‘excess fat’ compared to a ‘good doer’ who may be more likely to put on excess fat.

When scoring your own horse, it is key to distinguish between areas of fat and areas of muscle. Areas often known as ‘fat pads’ appear in areas such as ribs, shoulders, quarters and the top of the tail as well as a crest that may form along the horses topline.

The body condition scoring system can operate on a 5 or 9 scored scale, the 5 score scale is detailed below;

 Image result for fat horse
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0 – Very poor/Emaciated

  • Bone structure easily felt and seen
  • No or little muscle shelf from neck to shoulders
  • Bone structure felt and seen across whole body including ribs
  • Hips protruding and point of vertebrae felt

1 – Very thin

  • Can feel bone structure and slight muscle shelf over neck to shoulders.
  • Slight fat covering but bones can still be felt 
  • Can feel hip bones.

2 - Thin

  • Fat covering over bone structure
  • Fat deposits over wither depends on type and conformation of horse or pony.
  • Fat over spinal processes 
  • Can’t see ribs but can be felt and can’t feel hip bones.

3  - Moderate

  • Neck flows smoothly into shoulder
  • Neck rounds out, wither and back is level.
  • Layer of fat over ribs and can’t feel hip bones.

 4 – Fat

  • Fat deposited along the top of the neck and fat padded around withers.
  • Positive crease along the back and fat is spongy over and between the ribs.

5 - Excessively fat

  • Bulging fat in ‘fat pad’ areas with a deep positive crease down the back with pockets of fat across the hindquarters and ribs. 
  • These horses or ponies could be prone to Laminitis and other weight related problems.

 

Picture: Carroll C. L. and Huntingdon PJ. Body Condition Scoring and Weight Estimation of Horses


Scores 0 and 1 follow the skeletal anatomy closely with no or very little muscle and fat in place. The score 3 is believed to be the optimum body condition score with a smooth and rounded appearance neither gaining nor losing weight. Horses above a score of 3 have an above average fleshy appearance to their overall shape is over rounded.

A horse’s body condition can change a lot throughout year, with the growth of grass during the summer and the cold weather during the winter, careful management of the feeding and fitness regime will ensure your horse is at its best body condition all year round.

The conformation and type of horse needs to be considered when scoring a horse and make it difficult to apply all of the criteria to every horse. For example, horses with high withers or long or flat backs and possibly mares who are heavy in foal (where the skin is pulled downwards and taut over the ribs) may be given lower scores than they actually are. In the winter, horses or ponies with long coats may prove difficult to score as the coat could hide their true condition. For example, long hair may give the illusion of a higher body score as the ribs and hips may not be seen clearly.

The art is to manage feeding, supplementing and the horses fitness regime, for the right level of work required and to achieve the correct body condition score so the horses overall health benefits. Close monitoring of your horses dietary intake will ensure your horse has the correct balance of hard feed, forage and vitamins and minerals to ensure they are at their best.

Further Reading:

Carroll C. L. and Huntingdon PJ. .
Body Condition Scoring and Weight Estimation of Horses