Body condition scoring (BCS) is an objective method of evaluating a horse’s level of condition by palpating and visually assessing the degrees of fatness over certain areas of the horse’s body. A numeric value is assessed which can allow comparison of the horses condition over time, or between multiple horses. It is often difficult for horse owners to recognize changes in body weight and this can result in over or under feeding. The level of fat identified in the areas is dependent on the balance between the energy the horse consumes and that which is lost due to activity. If the horse is in a state of relative negative energy balance (less energy consumed than used) fat deposits in these areas will be diminished, and body condition will be lowered. The opposite is true if the horse’s diet provides more energy than the horse utilizes.
Energy balance is affected by such factors as level of activity, reproductive status (pregnancy and lactation), weather (humidity, wind chill, ambient temperature), age, and health status. The regions of the body that are assessed for fat cover to create a body condition score are; along the neck, along the withers, the tail head, over the ribs, behind the shoulders and the crease down the back.
While a horses use may dictate a slightly fleshier body condition (breeding mares) or slightly less fleshy condition (race horses), in general, the ideal body condition is typified by the following; a neck that flows smoothly into the shoulder and that rounds out the withers, a level back, a layer of fat over ribs (ribs can be felt but not seen) and hip bones that cannot be felt on palpation. On a 10 point scale this is scored a 5 and on a 5 point scale this is scored a 3. It is possible that a horse may be awarded different scores for different body areas. If this is the case, the score for each body area are averaged to give an overall score. There is also a range between scores and these may be given half scores i.e. it is neither a 2 nor a 3 and is thus given a 2.5.
To condition score your horse, stand the horse squarely on level ground and use the flat of your hand with fingers together and when facing the rear of the horse use the hand closest to the horse (i.e. on the left side of the horse use your left hand). Place your flat hand on the area to be palpated and run your hand over the area pushing your weight evenly into your hand and paying attention to what you feel. Read the descriptions below for each of the areas and along with your visual assessment of the area assign your score. Work through all 6 areas as seen in the picture below (neck A, withers B, behind shoulder F, loin C, ribs E and tailhead D) assigning a score that best describes what you feel, note half scores e.g. 5.5 if the horse is neither one score nor the other i.e. between a 5 and a 6 can be awarded.
If condition scoring is performed regularly for example once per month, you will start to build up an objective view of your horse’s condition and will also catch changes earlier than you might by visual assessment alone.
What do you think the neck in the top right picture should be scored as? Leave us a comment with your thoughts below.
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Body Condition Scoring by Dr. Clair Thunes and Summit Equine Nutrition LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.