The diagram of horse body condition (also called body fat scoring or body condition rating) is a technique used to assess whether a horse has a healthy amount of muscle and fat in certain areas of the body. Using both visual and hands-on inspection, the condition of a horse is graded in six specific areas of the body. These include the neck and shoulders, withers, ribs, loin, and tailhead. By assessing each area, a score is assigned and averaged to produce a overall horse body condition score. This is particularly useful for determining if a horse has a healthy balance of calorie-carrying fat and protein-building muscle.
Horses require an adequate amount of calorie-carrying fat to support and protect their muscles, organs, and other essential systems. However, excessive amounts of fat can interfere with a horse’s ability to perform athletic activities by restricting the amount of energy available for productive functions. As such, it is important for horses to be kept in a body condition that allows them to function optimally for their discipline and life stage.
Generally, the horse with the best body condition will be one that is able to carry sufficient amounts of fat while still maintaining enough muscle for its athletic performance. However, this is not a universal rule because horses in certain disciplines or life stages may need to maintain a higher or lower level of body condition. In addition, some breeds of horses may naturally have more or less muscle than other types of horses.
The first step in evaluating your horse’s body condition is to look at it visually and then feel with your hand. Muscle will be firm, while fat will feel soft and spongy. Start by moving your hand over the front of the neck and shoulder area to see if there is any noticeable fat accumulation.
Next, move your hand down the neck and towards the withers, feeling for a fatty layer to cover the bony structure of the withers. Then, gently touch around the ribcage and check if you can see and feel your horse’s ribs. At a body condition score of 2, the ribs should be just visible and at a score of 3, the ribs should be covered by a thin layer of fat.
At a body condition score of 4, the ribcage is rounded over the boney projections of the vertebrae, or transverse processes, and the withers blend smoothly into the body. At this point, you can still clearly see and feel each rib, and a positive or negative crease down the spine is visible. A soft layer of fat is also evident over the tailhead.
At a body condition score of 5, the shoulder is blending nicely with the rest of the back and the withers are rounded over the bony protrusions of the pelvic girdle, or hooks and pins, although you may not be able to distinguish individual bones. A spongy layer of fat covers the ribs, and there is a positive or negative crease down the back and a slight groove in the tailhead.