Body Condition Scoring for Horses

Body Condition Scoring allows you to evaluate your horse using both visual inspection and palpation. Fat reserves store extra dietary calories which may provide energy during times of stress.

An optimal score of five indicates horses with healthy coatings of fat on their crest and withers, behind shoulders, ribs, loin area and tailhead.


At 1 or 2, horses with body condition scores (BCSs) of 1 or 2 are considered poor condition horses, meaning there is little fat covering their skeletal structures; bones of neck, shoulders and withers become visible while the ribs, backbone and tailhead project prominently due to no fat coverage. This condition score should never be allowed to fall so low; any time its BCS falls below 2, an evaluation must take place immediately to identify possible contributing issues, including parasite infestations, dental issues, poor quality feed or illness that causes weight loss resulting in weight loss resulting in total condition scores below 2.

The Henneke Body Condition Scoring system measures six key areas on a horse’s body for their accumulation of fat versus muscle tissue accumulation, and assigns scores accordingly. A total score is determined after tallying up each score from each section; to accurately score horses it is essential that both hands and eyes be used to assess its thickness – certain breeds and conformation types tend to cover certain body parts more evenly with fat than others do.

Beginning your evaluation by inspecting the neck, shoulders and withers is ideal before progressing down to evaluate ribs, backbone and tailhead. While stomach evaluation is also helpful in this process, be mindful that amount of fat covering a horse’s stomach doesn’t always correlate with BCS as this could be affected by factors like internal parasites, poor dental health or an unhealthy diet high in starches and sugar.

At least four horses with a body condition score (BCS) of 4 or higher have sufficient fat cover to protect the skeletal structure effectively, according to Spillers/Horse&Rider Essentials’ body condition scoring video; two are assessed for BCS of 6 and 9. One horse had poor BCS, while the second showed better results. Accurately assessing their BCS allows owners to make adjustments that maintain desired body fatness levels. The Body Condition Score scale (BCS) is widely utilized by horse owners, nutritionists and breeding/performance horse professionals as a standardized language to communicate about a horse’s physical condition and apply appropriate recommendations to maintain optimal performance and body condition. With more practice at assessing BCS scores on horses, your scores should become increasingly accurate over time.

Very Thin

Ideal conditions for horses include those achieving a condition score between 5-6; this allows the animal to meet all its caloric requirements.

Body Condition Scoring is a useful way of evaluating how well horses are meeting their energy needs and making any necessary corrections if necessary. Horses not in peak physical condition cannot perform optimally or experience poor health; so regular assessments of your horse’s condition is recommended to stay ahead of any potential issues.

Horses in body condition scores of 0 or 1 are considered thin and emaciated, showing no visible fat deposits on the neck, withers, back or tail head. Their bones protrude more clearly; with prominently protruding ribs, pins and hooks protrusions from spines on back and tail head areas as well as prominent spinous processes from vertebrae on back/tail head areas and pins/hooks protrusions being notable features.

Body Condition Score 2 means a horse with some fat coverage has some definition in their neck, withers and shoulders; their ribs will be slightly defined but not clearly round; when running your hand down their backbone you should notice a subtle curve at its base.

If a horse has achieved a body condition score of 3, the ribs should be defined and distinct, while its bottom should show slight curves with ample room for you to feel its pelvis, hip bone and tail bone by pressing on its surface.

Feeling and seeing ribs is integral to horse body condition scoring as it allows us to compare horses regardless of size or breed. Furthermore, pregnant mares can use it as a preventive measure that ensures they don’t experience too much body loss during parturition. Carroll and Huntington (1988). Body condition scoring and weight estimation in horses. Equine Veterinary Journal 20(4):41-45. Henneke (1983). Body Condition Evaluations on Foals in Texas Stud Book Relationship among Condition Score, Physical Measures and Body Fat Percentage in Mares. Equine Veterinary Journal 15(3):371-372 Click here for more information on using the Horse&Rider Essentials Body Condition Score Chart. This tool provides an effective way of tracking trends over time and working to improve your horse’s body condition. Maintaining optimal body condition for horses in training or broodmares ensures they have enough energy reserves available for peak performance and reproduction.






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