Horse Body Condition Scoring
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Horse Body Condition Scoring

August 10, 2019


Hi, I’m Devan Catalano and I’m a PhD
student here at the University of Minnesota. Hi, I’m Krishona Martinson and I’m the
Equine Extension Specialist here at the University of Minnesota. Today we’re
going to be talking about how to body condition score a horse. The Henneke body condition scoring system has become really important the last handful of
years as the incidence of equine obesity has increased throughout the U. S. horse
population. The body condition scoring system that we use is the Henneke system and is on a scale of 1 to 9 with one being poor and nine being extremely fat.
Most horses are considered healthy between a range of four and six. Horses
that tend to be three and under are classified as underweight, while those that have a score of 7 to 9 tend to be classified as overweight. When assessing body condition score six areas of the horse are palpated which means they are touched her felt to determine
the amount of fat deposition. These areas include 1) the neck 2) the withers 3) the middle part of the ribs 4) behind the shoulder 5) along the top line and finally 6) the tail head. Today we’ll take a look at
four horses with different body condition scores. Before body condition
scoring look at the horse’s body profile. If the ribs are visible the body
condition score is less than five. If the ribs are not visible then the body
condition score is five or greater. As we look at the horse’s body profile the
ribs are not visible, so we know that the body condition score is between five and
nine. This horse’s back is smooth. There’s no crease or ridge. The ribs are
not visually distinguishable but they can easily be felt. Fat along the tail
head is spongy. And as we move to the withers they appear rounded over the
spine. And the shoulders and neck blend smoothly into the body. Based on this we
would classify this horse with a body condition score of 5 or moderate. For many horses this is considered ideal. Based on this we would recommend this horse
maintain its body condition and its body weight. So as we look at this horse’s
body profile we can see that the ribs are easily discernible. Because of this
we know that her body condition score is a four or less. As Devan moves along her
you can see that her spine is visible. She has very little, if any, fat along her
tail head. Again, her ribs are easily visible and therefore can also easily be
felt. Because of these characteristics we would consider this horse to have a body
condition score of 4. as we look at the horse’s body profile
the ribs are not visible so we know the body condition score is five or greater. This horse has a crease down her back.
Individual ribs can be felt but they have noticeable fat filling
between the ribs. Fat around her tail head is soft and spongy. And there is
also fat deposited along her withers, behind her shoulder and along her neck.
This mare is an example of a horse with a body condition score of 7 or one that
is considered fleshy or overweight. Based on this we would recommend this horse
should lose body condition and body weight. Some horses can be a
challenge to body condition score, especially ones diagnosed with metabolic
syndrome. These horses tend to have patchy fat deposits while appearing to
be thin in other areas. In these cases, body condition score each of the six
areas and take an average. To begin body condition scoring this
horse I’m going to start with her neck. Here, looking at the top two inches of
the neck there is a substantial amount of fat
which feels very spongy and squishy. I would give this horse
a score of 7 for her neck. Moving back towards the withers, her withers
are evenly filled out and nice and smooth with a score of a 5. Looking at
her back, again, it’s nice and smooth and flat where we want it with a score of a
5. Moving down her body, looking at the area behind her shoulder – now this is one
of those areas that can be a little tricky because this mare carries her
fat rather high up. And you can see further up there’s a lot of squish right
here, moving down a little bit there’s really not hardly any fat there.
So, overall I would give this area score of a 6 for her. Moving back towards the ribs, again, this can be a tricky area on these borderline metabolic horses. We’re aiming to have kind of this middle section of the horse scored. And
the upper half of this area there’s a good amount of fat. I can feel a
distinct fat pad right here. It’s more difficult to feel the ribs with
more of a score of a 6 or even a 7. But if I move towards the bottom
half of where I want to assess the ribs, they’re actually very easily discernible
and in fact I can almost see them here. So, what I’d want to do with a horse like
this that has both a fatter area and a thinner area in the same focal point of
the horse and the ribs I’m going to average these two scores
and give her a score of 5 across the ribs. Moving to the back of the horse,
over the tail head, she’s got a lot of squish right here, you can see
that. And I can feel that. I can push my fingers into her and that’s a lot of
sponginess right there. So that would have a score of a 7. Averaging all
of these areas together I think is sometimes the easiest way to get an
accurate score for these horses that carry their fat very unevenly.
Over-all I would give this mare a score of a 6. We know this mare is prone to equine
metabolic syndrome and her body condition helps to confirm this. This helps owners and professionals
better manage these horses. Body condition should be palpated or felt in six areas of the horse including the 1) neck 2) the withers 3) behind the shoulders
4) the ribs 5) the top liner back and finally 6) the tail head. And if necessary each area can be assessed individually
and then an average can be taken. Finally, horse owners should assess body
condition score at least once a month. It will help them determine the condition
and health of their horse. It will also help them track changes. For example, if a horse needs to lose or gain body weight over time. In conclusion, body condition
can be used to assess the overall condition and health of the horse.

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