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Body Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring is a helpful tool that horse owners can utilise to better monitor their horse’s weight and condition. A weight tape can be used, however, the actual number produced on the tape is of little practical help as there is no method of calculating the weight of a particular horse. Thus, monitoring the horses overall body condition is a more useful tool in the ongoing management of feeding and exercising regimes.

Body condition scoring considers the horses overall fat and muscle condition which is useful when assessing exercise and feeding regimes. The scoring system is a numerical system often with the lowest number being emaciated and the highest number being obese. This system is beneficial as it allows the owner to assess their horse every day and does not require any tools or outside help.

What is it?

Body Condition Scoring Systems are a way to objectively measure the body condition of a horse within a defined set of parameters. These parameters are defined by a numerical grading system, typically between 0-5 or 1-9. They have been designed to measure fat cover across the horse, specifically looking at the neck, shoulders, ribs and rump, to assess the horse’s overall condition. Carroll and Huntington in 1988 devised the 0-5 scoring system which is commonly used in the UK. Many nutritionists are now tending towards the 1-9 system devised by Henneke, in 1983 due to it offering a greater level of details within the scoring system.

How to body condition score a horse?

1. Stand to the side of the horse halfway between their head and their tail.

2. Look over your horse paying attention to neck, shoulders, ribs, hips and rump. Look for any areas that you can see or feel fat or muscle.

3. Feel your horses’ ribs. You should be able to easily feel them but not easily see them. If the ribs are prominent then the horse is likely underweight. If the ribs are hard to feel, then the horse is likely overweight.

4. Feel your horse’s neck and shoulders. A horse with a good body condition will have a neck that flows smoothly into the shoulders. The horses crest should be visible and even from poll to withers. The crest should be able to be cupped into one hand and able to be flexed from side to side.

5. Feel the area behind your horse’s ribs. This area should have a slight concave shape to it. It should not be flat or bulging.

6. Feel your horse’s hindquarters by moving your hands along and up to your horse’s croup. This area should be well defined but not bulging or hollowed.

7. Lastly, look at your horses tail head. A horse with a good body condition score will have a slight covering over their tail head but should not be bulging. The hips should not be prominently visible or protruding.

Once you have assessed your horse based on the steps you can assign them a body condition score based on the table above. Assessing your horse on a regular basis is important for monitoring changes and adjusting their exercise and nutrition regimes.

Interpreting the results

It is important to take into account factors such as: age, gender, fitness, general health as this these will all influence the body condition score. Typically, it is directly related to feed intake but the factors mention cannot be ignored. The optimum body condition score is personal to the individual horse. As a guide a body condition score of less than 4 is indicative of calorie requirements not being met, whereas a score greater than 6 indicates that the horse is getting more calories than required.

If your horse is on the lower end of the scoring system you can consider feeding a conditioning feed and increasing good quality roughage. If you horse is on the higher end of the scoring system, cutting your horses concentrates, adding a balancer and assessing the type of roughage you feed will be required.

Why is it important to know your horse’s body condition scoring?

As an owner it is our responsibility to make sure our animals are healthy. The body condition scoring system is one way that allows us to do this. Horses that are overweight end up developing issues like laminitis, metabolic disorder, diabetes, etc and can be life threatening. Aside from medical repercussions having a horse in work that is under conditioned and over conditioned can put huge physical strain on the horse’s body and can end up causing injuries.

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