How Does Your Horse Score?

Keeping a close eye on your horse’s body condition and weight is perhaps the best way to gauge the effectiveness of a feeding program. We all want our horses to be in tip-top shape, well-muscled, and neither too fat nor too thin. The problem?

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Keeping a close eye on your horse’s body condition and weight is perhaps the best way to gauge the effectiveness of a feeding program. We all want our horses to be in tip-top shape, well-muscled, and neither too fat nor too thin. The problem? Just what is the ideal body condition (and weight) for a horse, and how can body condition be reliably assessed? Guesswork won’t do the job. Even experienced horse owners tend to grossly underestimate body weight when using the “eyeball method.” Similarly, subjective assessment of condition using descriptors such as “good,” “fair,” and “poor” leaves too much room for error. Ideal condition in the eye of one owner might be too fat or too thin to another.


Therefore, we need a more accurate and reliable method. Measurement of body weight (using a scale) is a good way to monitor condition in an individual horse, but the expense of a scale suitable for horses cannot be justified on most farms. A much cheaper approach is to estimate body weight with a weight tape, a system based on the known relationship between girth measurement and body weight in horses. However, although girth measurement does give a reasonable estimate of body weight, studies have shown the numbers can be off by as much as 5%. That’s 50 pounds in a 1,000-pound horse!


Another approach is the use of body condition scoring (BCS)–a widely accepted system developed in the early 1980s by  Don Henneke, PhD, at Texas A&M University–that has been used by horsemen, nutritionists, and veterinarians. The system provides an estimate of the amount of fat deposited in various places on the horse’s body. The beauty of the BCS system is that it is easy to use, requires no equipment, and can be applied to all breeds. You should apply the BCS method to determine if your horse is too fat, too thin, or just right, and if necessary, make adjustments in diet and exercise level to achieve  ideal body condition

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Written by:

Ray Geor, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, is the pro vice-chancellor of the Massey University College of Sciences, in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

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