Body Condition Scoring: Horses

Body condition scoring can be a useful tool for horse owners. It can be used to make sure a horse is ready for the winter, the breeding season, or any other time when it is likely to burn calories rapidly.

The scoring system for horses uses a nine-point scale:

  1. Poor. Obviously extremely emaciated. Bone structures prominent, no fat anywhere on the body. This horse is near death.
  2. Very thin. Obviously emaciated. Hips, pelvis, and tailhead prominent. Neck, shoulder, and wither bones faintly visible. Some flesh over spine and ribs, but not enough to hide the bones. This horse is in poor health.
  3. Thin. Neck, withers, and shoulders accentuated. Slight fat cover over ribs, but the bones are still visible. Spine and tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae are not visible. Hip joints rounded but still visible.
  4. Moderately thin. Faint outline of ribs visible. Slight ridge down back. Hip joints not visible. Some fat can be felt around tailhead.
  5. Moderate. Neck and shoulders blend smoothly into the body. Withers rounded. Back flat and level. Ribs cannot be seen but are easily felt. Tailhead feels spongy.
  6. Moderately fleshy. Some fat deposits on the sides of the neck, the sides of the withers, and behind the shoulders. Slight crease down back. Spongy fat cover on ribs and tailhead.
  7. Fleshy. Spongy fat all over body. Crested neck, crease down back, noticeable filling of fat between the ribs.
  8. Fat. Thick neck. Area along withers filled in with fat. No distinction between shoulder and girth. Ribs hard to feel. Fat deposits on inner thighs. Tailhead very soft. This horse is at risk for health problems.
  9. Extremely fat. Obviously obese. Bulging fat on neck, shoulders, withers, and tailhead. Patchy fat on ribs. Obvious crease on back. Flanks entirely filled in. Inner thighs may rub together. This horse is at risk for health problems.

A horse that regularly competes in some of the more rigorous performance sports may be considered at an ideal weight if his body condition score is between 4 and 5. However, he will require careful management to ensure that he does not drop below this level.

A horse with no special energy demands can be maintained between 5 and 6.

Both mares and stallions draw heavily on their energy reserves during the breeding season and will need higher body condition scores. A BCS between 6 and 7 is ideal coming into the breeding season. By the end of the season, they will probably score between 5 and 6.

Similarly, horses that are kept on pasture year-round should start the winter with a BCS between 6 and 7 so that in spring they will still have a healthy condition score between 5 and 6. This should be no problem for a low-maintenance, easy-keeping breed.

Helpful Resource

Body Condition Scoring System Benefits for Horses and Owners
Handy 4-page download from Mississippi State University Extension, complete with color photos.

Complete Series

Body Condition Scoring

Body Condition Scoring