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Body Condition Score

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Don Henneke, PhD, developed the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System as part of his doctoral research at Texas A&M University. He studied the relationship of body fat on a mare and her ability to conceive. The body condition score (BCS) system is now a standardized tool used within the horse industry. It is based on both visual appraisal and palpable fat cover of the six major points of the horse that are most responsive to changes in body fat.

The Henneke Scoring system is a scientific method of evaluating a horse's body condition regardless of breed, body type, sex or age. Areas of the horse's body which reflected changes in body fat content were selected and a condition score system was developed. The system assigns a numerical value to fat deposition as it occurs in various places on the horse's body. These specific locations that store fat are the lumbar spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, area behind the shoulder, neck and withers.

Why use:

Maintaining a horse in a particular condition, whether it be "good," "fat," or "thin" is very vague. The equine industry needs a system to accurately describe the amount of stored body fat in the horse. This system provides an accurate evaluation of body condition and can be used to provide information regarding the nutritional status of different horses. Keep in mind that this body condition score system refers to differences in body fat content, not to the quality of the horse or the amount of feed they receive. The condition score system has been evaluated by several horse producers and all have indicated that it is easily learned and very useful in monitoring changes in the amount of stored body fat. It is even used by law enforcement agencies as an objective method of scoring a horse's body condition in horse cruelty cases. The BCS chart is accepted in a court of law. Now horse owners can more accurately control body condition and therefore the nutritional status of a horse to prevent thinness or obesity in a horse.

Understand that each horse has their own ideal body condition score for his breed and occupation. A racehorse in training will have a different score than that of a draft horse but they both can be the right score.

How to use:

This system is a simple hands-on method that uses both eyes and hands to assess a horse's body condition. You cannot base a horse's body condition score on looks alone if you want a specific score.

Apply pressure with your hands along each area where the fat deposition occurs. The pressure that is applied should be like that of a massage. If you press a horse's side with your hand, you'll be able to feel the fat covering his ribs, and get an idea of how much fat is present. This also goes for the withers, feeling all around the area. To properly score a horse, it is necessary to be both firm and gentle when feeling. After pressing each part of the horse with your hands to feel for body fat, assign each area of the body the numerical score that corresponds with the horse's condition. The scores from each area are then totaled and averaged out by 6. The resulting number is the horse's rating on the Henneke Body Scoring Condition Chart.

When a horse has a long haircoat, it may interfere with accurate visual appraisal, so it is imperative that you use your hands to feel the horse. The horse's long haircoat will hide the protrusion of bones, all except in the most extreme cases.

Conformational differences between horses may make certain criteria within each score difficult to apply to every animal. In these instances, those areas influenced by conformation should be discounted, but not ignored when determining the condition score.



The present study was conducted to develop a system for comparing horses based on the amount of stored energy in their bodies and to determine the relationship of this condition score to body fat of mares during gestation and lactation. A condition score system was developed using approximately 70 horses and the expertise of several horse producers. Scores were determined by visual appraisal and palpation of fat cover at six areas. The areas judged were indicative of changes in stored body fat. A more intensive study was conducted using 32 Quarter Horse mares. Four groups were fed a different dietary energy treatment each. These four different treatment diets reflected energy intake prior to and following parturition. Percent body fat was calculated from ultrasonic scans of rump fat thickness and the regression equation of Westervelt et. al. (1976). The scoring system assumed no effect of physical fitness of the horse and did not differentiate between "hard" and "soft" fat. Mares were weighed, scanned for rump fat thickness and evaluated for condition on day 1 of treatment, at foaling and at day 90 after parturition. Mares were selected at random and measurements were taken at the height of their withers and hearthgirth circumference. Data collected indicated that manipulation of dietary energy intake during gestation and lactation significantly affected body weight and percent body fat in mares. The condition score system could be easily utilized by the horse producer to monitor energy stores within the animal, and energy intake could then be manipulated to allow efficient feeding of horses.

Description of the Condition Score System

1 Poor

Emaciated. Prominent spinous processes, ribs, tailhead and hooks and pins. Noticeable bone structure on withers, shoulders and neck. No fatty tissues can be palpated.

2 Very thin

Emaciated. Slight fat covering over base of spinous processes. Transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Prominent spinous processes, ribs, tailhead and hooks and pins. Withers, shoulders and neck structures faintly discernable.

3 Thin

Fat build up about halfway on spinous processes, transverse processes cannot be felt. Slight fat cover over ribs. Spinous processes and ribs easily discernable. Tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. Hook bones appear rounded, but easily discernable. Pin bones not distinguishable. Withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.

4 Moderately Thin

Negative crease along back. Faint outline of ribs discernable. Tailhead prominence depends on conformation; fat can be felt around it. Hook bones not discernable. Withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.

5 Moderate

Back is level. Ribs cannot be visually distinguished but can be easily felt. Fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy. Withers appear rounded over spinous processes. Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

6 Moderate to Fleshy

May have slight crease down back. Fat over ribs feels spongy. Fat around tailhead feels soft. Fat beginning to be deposited along the sides of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck.

7 Fleshy

May have crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat. Fat around tailhead is soft. Fat deposits along withers, behind shoulders and along the neck.

8 Fat

Crease down back. Difficult to palpate ribs. Fat around tailhead very soft. Area along withers filled with fat. Area behind shoulder filled in flush. Noticeable thickening of neck. Fat deposited along inner buttocks.

9 Extremely Fat

Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appearing over ribs. Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. Flank filled in flush.

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