Is your horse glowing with a shiny coat, great hooves and bright eyes? The outside of your horse reflects a lot about what’s going on inside your horse. If not maybe you can use my motto and “Go to the source, look at your horse”
Poor or inadequate nutrition, health issues, stress and aging can all wreak havoc with equine condition. The appearance of their coat, feet and attitude usually are good indicators that we are doing things “right” to achieve ULTIMATE health in our animals.
One of the most important gauges of your horses’ health is his body condition score (BCS). Using a BCS system introduces some level of objectivity into measuring your horses’ condition.
I use the Henneke system of body condition. The Henneke System is an objective evaluation of a horse’s body condition. Developed in 1983 by Don R. Henneke, PhD, it is based on both visual appraisal and the feeling of fat cover of the six major points of the horse that are most responsive to changes in body fat.
Below is the chart used for quick reference for this system.
The chart covers six major parts of the horse; 1) neck 2) withers 3) the shoulder area 4)ribs 5)loins and 6) the tailhead area.
The chart rates the horses on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 1 is considered poor or emaciated with no body fat. A nine is extremely fat or obese.
Horse veterinarians consider a body score of between 4 and 7 as acceptable. A 5 is considered ideal.
You start by visually inspecting your horse and also palpating each part of your horse with your hands to feel for body fat.
You then assign each area of the body you inspected the numerical score that corresponds with the horse’s condition; 1-9.
It’s important to do both a visual and a feel. Just think about winter and if the horse has a long coat. The horse’s long haircoat will hide the protrusion of bones, all except in the most extreme cases. So make sure you feel for fat and bones.
The scores from each area are then totaled and divided by 6. The resulting number is the horse’s rating on the Henneke Body Scoring Condition Chart.
Conformational differences can change a score depending on the horse so they should be accounted for but not ignored when determining the condition score. Extremes in conformation (such as very high withers or a swayback) can make evaluating the degree of fat cover for a certain area challenging. In some cases, you may have to throw out one or two of the six scores before averaging the rest to come up with a single numerical value. For example, a Quarter Horse can have a big ol’ butt (oh yeah) but should not be given an 8 unless it is really due to fat.
You’ll also find that in some disciplines (for example racing) and some life stages (like pregnancy) a higher or lower score than the moderate “5” might be preferred.
You can improve your skill at equine body condition scoring by evaluating as many different horses as possible.
You should always assess the six areas in the same order each time so that you develop your own system.
Another quicker way to evaluate is a Poor, Moderate, Fat scale. Here are some examples of these ratings:
Image from Blendbetter petfoods
Understanding the current “condition” of your horse and keeping an eye on this will help you increase equine health, maintain equine fitness and reduce your overall costs.
Peace and good rides,til we meet again…..