Knowing your horse’s Body Condition Score is important to determine their overall wellbeing and Health.

Body Condition is a measure and assessment of the amount of stored fat on the horse’s body. A horse’s weight is a key factor, but it alone doesn’t give the whole picture. To help with this, you should also do a routine Body Condition Score. So, it is not a measure of the overall health of the horse, but it does give us a strong clue.

Therefore, I highly reccomend you try to develop a habit of visually scoring your horses whenever you observe them – with practice it becomes easy-peasy! I like to do my scoring when I have a horse out for grooming, or when I feed. Simply stop for a minute or two and score the horse.

PRO TIP: I keep a record of the Body Condition Score and weight in a journal or white-board for records. This will be so valuable if you ever need to refer back to. I have found using a Body Condition Scoring system is invaluable for effective communication when  talking to my veterinarian!

What is a “Good” Score?

A Body Condition Score is just that, a score so, you’ll rate it from 1-10. 1 is extremely emaciated. 10 is a fatty Oompa-Loompa.

Ideally, a riding horse should be a score in a rage of 5-6. A score over 8 is generally a concern for obesity unless the horse is deliberately plumper. For example, I have intentionally plumped up a horse to prepare for winter, because that horse generally loses weight when the temperature drops.

Any score below 4 is a cause for worry of being too thin, especially if cold winter weather is around the corner. This is where I have seen many sad cases in rescue horses or seniors.

Step by Step

Where on the body to check your horse for fat deposits. Image form Kentucky Performance Products

First and foremost, to begin, observe the top-line/backbone or crease down the back. You are checking to see how much the boney tops of the spinal processes are sticking up. So, is the spine level with the back, sunken below, or protruding above? If the spinal processes are protruding above the level of the back, then the horse is thin and would be a score of a 4 or below. On the flip side, if there is a “gutter” over the spine created by the fat build-up on either side of the bone then you have an 8 or greater score.

Example of a Body Condition Score of 1 and 2 very thin. Image from Kentucky Performance Products

Next, you need to asses the tailhead by feeling around the top of the tail where it blends into the body, this is the highest movable point of the tail. Is the fat, soft or hard? 

Assess the Ribs

Furthermore, you’ll check out the ribs. Similarly, you are rating the amount/thickness of fat covering the ribs and its squishiness. An underweight horse will have a thin layer of fat over the ribs and you can easily distinguish each rib, this will be scored 3. A moderate horse, score 5, will not have visually apparent ribs, but they are easily felt. When a horse begins to fall in the ‘fleshy’ or as I call the ‘oompa-loompa’ category, you’ll notice filling of fat between the ribs, however, you can still feel the individual ribs.

Example of Body Condition Score of 4 and 5 ‘Moderate’. Images from Kentucky Performance Products

Moving Back – Hips (pins & hooks)

Likewise, another place that must be assessed is the rump. More specifically the pins and hooks. Pins are the pelvic bones near the tail that poke out the back of the rump. The hooks are the ‘hip bones’, that stick out the side of the rump. How well covered are these points? Therefore, you’ll rate if they are obviously protruding or their amount covered.

Thin horse hip protrusion example
An example of what the hip and pin look like on a thin horse. Notice the severity of protrusion either out to the side or out the back of the rump. Image from Kentucky Equine Research

Neck > Withers and Behind the Shoulder

Finally, asses along the neck and down to the withers. A horse develops body fat in a predictable pattern. I sure love it when they make at least one thing easy on us 😉 Fat starts to develop starting behind the shoulder, then along the ribs, and up over the rump. Finally along the topline and up the back. Then, the neck and head start to develop a thick ‘crest’ commonly seen on ponies. A ‘crest’ is a classic, heavy fat deposit, its firm, round and I think yucky!

wither, shoulder and neck fat example
Take a look at where the fat deposits behind the shoulder, withers and neck. Image from Kentucky Performance Products

For many horse owners, noticing a thickening of the neck is pretty easy, because many horses develop almost a line where the fat begins. As you move onto the withers and behind the shoulders, it can be a little bit more challenging. Make sure you do not get muscle confused with fat in these areas.

obese horse example of Body Condition
Example of heavy, firm fat deposits on an obese horse. Image from Kentucky Performance Products

Alright, that’s a wrap! Hope you enjoyed this, remember to share with your horsey-friends.

Happy Horsey-Days!

Erica