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Is my Horse too Fat or Is my Horse too Thin?

Julie Frykman

Posted on October 27 2017

Measuring if your horse is too thin or too fat by Equestrianista.At least once in our life of owning horses we have to ask ourselves if we have the overweight horse or the underweight horse. It is an ever-evolving, never-ending balancing act to keep your horse at an ideal weight. We especially find it hard if we own an easy-keeper during the summer with those lush pastures, or during the heart of winter with an already hard-keeper.  

Managing their weight is only half of the equation. To begin with we need to know how our horse rates within body condition. So how do we know what is ideal? The Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale is a numerical scale that was created to provide us a standard system to evaluate the amount of fat on a horse's body. It was developed by Henneke et al. (1983) at Texas A&M University with the goal of creating a universal scale to assess horses' bodyweight. Knowing what the numbers mean on this scale are important, as your veterinarian will reference these numbers when evaluating your equine. It runs from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat). A body score of 5 (moderate) is considered the most ideal for the majority of breeds and disciplines. Though, you may need to take into consideration individual equines, or life stages like pregnancy, which may tolerate higher or lower scores. 

So let's begin with the six areas of your horse's body where you evaluate his thick or thinness. There are six places on your horses body that you need to feel with your hands that will tell you the degree of fat in relation to his muscle. They are as follows:

  • Neck
  • Withers
  • Behind the Shoulder
  • Ribs
  • Loin
  • Tailhead

Press your fingers lightly into these areas to assess them against the body condition scoring scale. The scale is as follows:

  1. Poor: Horse is extremely emaciated. No fatty tissue can be seen on the vertebrae, ribs, pelvic bones, and tailhead and they are protruding prominently. The bone of the withers, shoulders, and neck can be easily seen and no fatty tissue can be felt. 
  2. Very Thin: Horse is emaciated. You will see slight tissue covering over vertebrae, yet the vertebrae, ribs, pelvic bones, and tailhead are still protruding. The withers, shoulder, and neck are visible
  3. Thin: Horse has slight fat cover over body. Individual vertebrae and ribs no longer visibly discernible, but are easily discernible with hands. Horse's withers, shoulders, and neck are thin and accentuated, with a prominent tailhead.
  4. Moderately Thin: Horse's has a slight ridge along spine and outline of ribs are visible. The tailhead may or may not be visible depending on the breed and conformation. Horse's withers, shoulders, and neck do not appear overly thin.
  5. Moderate: Horse's back is flat and spine and ribs cannot be seen however ribs can be felt. Tailhead is spongy and withers, shoulders, and neck are rounded and smooth.
  6. Moderately Fleshy: Horse has a slight crease down spine and ribs and tail head feel spongy. Fat deposits are beginning along the withers and neck and behind shoulder.
  7. Fleshy: Horse has a crease down spine and ribs have fat filling between them. The horse's tailhead is soft and spongy with fat deposits along withers and neck and behind shoulders.
  8. Fat: Horse has an apparent crease down spine and the ribs are difficult to feel. Soft and spongy fat surrounds the tailhead and fat deposits along withers, behind shoulders, and on inner thighs. The horse has noticeable thickening of the neck.
  9. Extremely Fat: Horse has an obvious crease down back and spine with patchy fat over ribs and bulging fat on tailhead. The withers, behind shoulders, and neck also show considerable fat deposits, with fat along inner thighs and fatty flank.

The signs of an underweight horse are fairly obvious to even the untrained eye. And although we've all been guilty googling over the adorable fat pony a time or two, deep down we know the reality for pony, or horse, is that being overweight equals being unhealthy as well. Bottom line is we all love our equine partners more than anything and here at Equestrianista we hope this scale helps you keep him or her at their very best!

Do you have any additional thoughts or comments on this topic? We'd love to hear! Tell us below.

xoxo Julie and the Equestrianista Team


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