Using the Henneke Horse Body Condition Scoring System
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Using the Henneke Horse Body Condition Scoring System

September 4, 2019


Hi, I’m Dr. Lydia Gray. I’m the staff veterinarian
here at SmartPak, and today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite topics: body
condition scoring. What it is, why you should be doing it, how to do it, and then some additional
measurements that could also help. The body condition scoring scale is a numerical
based, standardized system of assessing fat cover in a horse. It was developed in the
80s by Don Henneke and his team at Texas A&M University. It ranges from 1-9, with one being
emaciated and 9 being very fat or obese, and each number in the scale roughly corresponds
to about 50 pounds. By developing this universal standard of body
condition scoring, horses owners and veterinarians, nutritonists, and other health care professionals
are able to talk apples to apples or at least be on the same page when it comes to discussing
a horse’s weight. Because one person’s perception of what a thin or skinny horse is is different
than another person’s perception. It’s also helpful when tracking a horse that’s
in a controlled weight loss program. If you’re trying to get the horse to go from an 8 to
a seven and a half to a 7, when you use those numbers, everyone knows what you are talking
about. Everyone knows that too thin isn’t good, but
too fat isn’t good either. A study out of Virginia showed that just over half, 51% to
be exact, of the horses they studied came in at sevens, eights, and nines, which is
overweight or obese. And there are some serious health risks associated with being overweight
and obese, such as laminitis, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, bone, joint and tendon injuries,
difficulty cooling off after exercise or during hot weather, and just a general reduction
in performance levels. Next, let’s talk about how to body condition
score. There are six areas to be assessed when measuring the fat cover on a horse’s
body. The first is along the neck… then behind the shoulders… along the withers… across the ribs… down the back or the loin… and then the tail head. When evaluating each of these six areas, it’s
important to lay your hands on them and feel them, as well as to visualize or look at them,
because looks can be deceiving. Henneke’s body condition scoring chart has
criteria for each of the six locations that correspond to the nine numbers. So, you use
that to come up with a number for each location, and then you just sort of average them up
to come up with a general impression for that particular horse. Now, not every horse read the book, so it’s
ok to not have a nice, neat, whole number like a four, five, or a six. Four and a half,
five and a half, six and a half is just fine. Understand that in some disciplines, like
racing, and some life stages, like pregnancy, a lower or higher body condition score is
preferred. And some horses have extremes in conformation, like a sway back or high withers,
that make giving a number to that part of the body very difficult. It’s ok to throw
those out and just average up the rest of them. Now that we’ve covered body condition scoring,
which is a subjective way of assessing your horse’s condition, let’s talk about an objective
way, and then you can record both of these in your horse’s journal to keep track. The most common objective measurement is horse’s
weight. And to do this, you’ll need a commercially available weight tape. I’d recommend picking
one and sticking with it, because it’s not the absolute numbers on here that are meaningful,
it’s more the trend, because you’re doing this about every month or so. If you don’t have a commercially available
weight tape, any flexible measuring tape will do, you just have to take an additional measurement,
and then plug it into a formula. Or, plug it into our online horse weight calculator,
and it will do the math for you. With both of these measurement tools, now
you can track your horse’s weight and condition and work with your veterinarian and nutritionist
to maintain his ideal score.

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  1. What about a horse with muscle atrophied? My mare is a 4 and half.. lean muscle and fit..but she has muscle atrophied.. so that always throws people off that she looks too skinny when she isn't..

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