Body condition scoring (BCS) is a valuable skill, which we recommend all horse owners and managers practice often on their equine herds. The system was developed to help one visually assess the amount of fat cover on a horse, which of course is tied to their overall health. Too little fat cover is a sign of unthriftiness, while excess fat cover can lead to other problems- such as metabolic disorders. Monitoring changes in body condition, whether it’s your show mount, a broodmare, or your weekend trail warrior, can help you determine the energy balance of your horse’s diet or give you clues to other lurking issues. Your horse’s BCS is one of the first things we’ll ask or help you determine when evaluating your horse and their diet.
The Henneke Horse Body Condition Scoring System is a great tool to use because it utilizes a standard scale, which can then be added to your records and shared with all your equine health care and management professionals. The score can then be tracked for changes over time, rather than trying to rely on memory or a visual weight estimate, which many studies have determined to be unreliable as equine owners consistently over- or underestimate weight by as much as 150-200 pounds. The Henneke system scores fat cover in the following areas: over the ribcage, behind the shoulder, around the withers, along the top of the neck, down the crease of the back, and around the tail head. Evaluating these six fat-accumulating areas of the horse’s body determines where they may lie on the 1 to 9-point scale. The thinnest designation on the scale is a 1, and the fattest is a 9, while a 5 is considered ideal for most equine breeds and body types.
Use the descriptive chart below to help you determine your own horse’s BCS. Be sure to both visually inspect the six fat-collecting areas and palpate the thickness with your hands. Some horses may deposit fat unevenly, so try to give each site its own score and then average them together for best results.
1. Poor – Extremely emaciated. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, hips, and lower pelvic bones project prominently; bone structure of the withers, shoulders and neck are easily noticed. No fatty tissue can be felt.
2. Very Thin – Emaciated. Slight fat cover over base of spine; ribs, tailhead, points of hip and buttock prominent; bone structure of the withers, shoulders, and neck faintly discernable.
3. Thin – Fat buildup about halfway on the spine; slight fat cover over the ribs; spine and ribs easily discernable; tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually; points of hip appear rounded but easily discernable; points of buttock not distinguishable; withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.
4. Moderately Thin – Slight ridge along the back; faint outline of ribs discernable; fat can be felt around tailhead, but prominence depends on conformation; Hips not discernable; withers, shoulders, and neck not obviously thin.
5. Moderate – Back is flat with no crease; ribs easily felt, but not visually distinguishable; fat around tailhead feels slightly spongy; withers appear rounded over spine; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.
6. Moderately Fleshy – May have slight crease down back; fat over ribs fleshy; fat around tailhead soft; small fat deposits behind shoulders and along the sides of neck and withers.
7. Fleshy – Might have crease down back; individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat; fat around tailhead is 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 and behind shoulders filled with fat; noticeable thickening of the neck; fat deposited along inner thighs.
9. Extremely Fat- Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appearing over ribcage; bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulder and along neck; fat along inner thighs may rub together; flank filled with fat.