Body Condition Scoring
The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System classifies horses’ bodies in nine categories, with 1 being the thinnest. However, a score of 9 does not indicate the healthiest horse. Read on to see why you don’t want your horse to receive top scores in this contest.
A body score of 1 applies when you can easily feel and see the horse’s bone structure. There’s no muscle shelf where the neck meets shoulder and you can easily feel and see the vertebrae, tailhead and hip bones. There’s no fat to protect the protruding spine, pelvis, hips and ribs. Horse in poor condition also often have sunken eye sockets.
A horse is considered “very thin” when you can faintly see and feel the bone structure. the horse has a slight shelf where the shoulder and neck meet. Unlike the 0 score, a horse with a score of 1 Ribs are prominent but not protruding. A small amount of fat covers the spinous processes. The tailhead is prominent and the pelvic and hip bones are discernable but not prominent.
A thin horse has accentuated neck, withers and shoulders. A thin layer of fat protects the spine and ribs but they’re still visible. The hip bones are also covered with a thin layer of fat. The tailhed is prominent but you can’t count the vertebrae. Hip bones are beginning to round out but they’re still visible.
A horse is still considered moderately thin when you can still see a faint outline of the ribs and a peaked appearance along the spine. The withers, neck and shoulder are not obviously thin, and the tailhead may have varying levels of fat, depending on conformation. Hip joints are hidden by a healthy layer of fat and muscle.
A horse with a moderate body condition exhibits smooth lines from neck to tailhead. The space between the neck and shoulder is protected by muscle and fat, though not bulky. The neck rounds out the withers and the back is level. There’s enough fat over the ribs that you can see them, but they’re not easily felt. You can no longer see or feel the hip bones and the fat around the tailhead is nice and soft.
A body conditioning score of 6 is when you begin to see fat depositing around all the telltale areas (see diagram below). The neck, withers and behind the shoulder are starting to look lumpy. Fat over the ribs feels spongy, and the horse may have the start of a trench down its spine. Fat around the tailhead looks and feels puffy.
I can’t think of anyone who wants to be referred to as “fleshy.” The same is true for horses. A score of 7 goes to the horse with a slight indentation down its back. You can feel individual ribs, but there’s a noticeable fat padding between the ribs. The fat around a fleshy horse’s tailhead is soft; and you’ll find fat deposited along withers, behind the shoulders and along the horse’s neck.
A horse is officially in Fatty McFatterson territory when you see and feel bulging fat over the neck, wither and ribs. The area behind the shoulder is now flush with the body. You can barely feel the ribs, and the spine area will be an indented crease from withers to loins. The fat around the tailhead is mushy and soft. The areas along withers and behind the shoulders are filled with fat, with a noticeable thickening of neck. There’s also fat deposited along the inner thighs.
A very fat horse with a score of 9 has an obvious crease down its back. You’ll find patchy fat over the ribs, and bulging fat around the tailhead, withers, behind shoulders and along the neck. The fat deposited along the inner thighs may cause the thighs to rub together. The flank is also filled with fat.
Bellwether Body Parts
These are the areas of the body that help determine a horse’s body condition. If a horse is too thin or too fat, you’ll be able to tell by palpating and observing theese body parts.
Don't I want my horse to be fat and Happy?
Overweight horses, like overweight humans, can run into a host of health problems if you don’t get their condition under control. Overweight horses, or “easy keepers”, battle laminitis; oxidative stress; foot, joint and bone strain, and excess stress on the heart and lungs.