In 1983, as part of his doctoral work at Texas A&M University, Don Henneke PhD developed what is now well known as the Body Condition Scoring System (BCS), which provides a guidleline for estimating stored body fat in horses.
In horses, fat is laid down in a predictable pattern in particular places. Based on visual assessment and feel of these areas, the amount of fat on a horse’s body can be determined within an objective framework that ranks horses from very thin (1), to obese (9).
The areas where fat usually accumulates are along the neck, around the withers, over the ribs, behind the shoulder, and on the rump and tailhead.
Horse owners should be familiar with the body condition scoring system and be able to rank their horse based on visual assessment and palpation. Depending on age, breed and many other factors, horses should fall within a range of 4-7, the ideal being 5-6.
Once you know your horse’s body condition score, overall health, and exercise regimen you can adjust their management accordingly. Making gradual adjustments in their feed, stabling, or exercise regime so that gain or lose weight in order to fall within the appropriate range for their type.
It is helpful to have experience performing this skill because a comparative context gives you more insight into the score of a particular horse. That said, use these guidelines to determine what your horse's body condition score is:
1 - Poor - Extremely Emaciated
2 - Very Thin
3 - Thin
4 - Moderately Thin
5 - Moderate
6 - Moderately Fleshy
7 - Fleshy
8 - Fat
9 - Extremely Fat - Obese
Tips for safety & Success
Know the areas of the body that are evaluated for a proper assessment of body condition.
Challenge yourself by asking a friend to provide an assessment of your horse's body condition. Did you both arrive at the same score, or close? If not, discuss the differences in your approach. Ask your vet about your horse's body condition score. By asking for another opinion from a qualified professional that evaluates numerous horses, you can ensure your approach to assessment is accurate, or at least in the same ballpark.
However, even Dr. Henneke advises that this system is not precise, but provides a good guideline for assessment. Likewise, the BCS should not be the only tool used to evaluate a horse's overall condition or health. It should be used in combination with other tools or veterinary diagnostics, particularly when assessing cases of suspected neglect.
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