Body Condition Scoring Basics

Apr 16, 2020


Tara Ellerman
Countryside Feed Sales & Nutrition Professional
 
What is Body Condition Scoring?
 
Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is a way to evaluate a horse’s degree of fatness on a scale of 1 – 9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being extremely fat. Utilizing this tool regularly is a great way to determine if your feeding and health programs are working for each of your horses.
 
Keeping an eye on the condition of individual horses is important. You may have a senior horse struggling to maintain his weight, a working horse that is in great shape, and an off-season performance horse that is gaining weight in adjacent stalls or even in the same pen. Tracking scores of each horse will help cater to individual needs.
 
How do you assign a body condition score?
 
The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System is a six-point evaluation system developed by Don Henneke, PhD, at Texas A&M University. This system involves assessment of six different areas of the horse:
  1. Crest of the neck
  2. Withers
  3. Loin or the crease down the middle of the back
  4. Behind the shoulder
  5. Ribs
  6. Tailhead 
It is important to look at all of these areas because, just like humans, horses are genetically predisposed store fat in different areas. Some tend to carry fat in their neck and withers, others may deposit more fat behind the shoulder, etc. Also, getting your hands on the horse as you score them is very beneficial. Winter hair coats, pregnancy, and muscularity are all factors that can alter visual evaluation of condition.
 
Assigning BCS according to The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System follows these descriptions:
 
  1. Poor: Horse extremely emaciated. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, tuber coxae and ischii projecting prominently. Bone structure of withers, shoulders and neck easily noticeable. No fatty tissue can be felt.
  2. Very Thin: Horse emaciated. Slight fat covering over base of spinous processes, transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, tuber coxae and ischii prominent. Withers, shoulders, and neck structures faintly discernible.
  3. Thin: Fat build up about halfway on spinous processes, transverse processes cannot be felt. Slight fat cover over ribs. Spinous processes and ribs easily discernable. Tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. Tuber coxae appear rounded, but easily discernible. Tuber ischia not distinguishable. Withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.
  4. Moderately Thin: Negative crease along back. Faint outline of ribs discernible. Tailhead prominence depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it. Tuber coxae not discernible. Withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.
  5. Moderate: Back level. Ribs cannot be visually distinguished but can be easily felt. Fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy. Withers appear rounded over spinous processes. Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.
  6. Moderately Fleshy: May have slight crease down back. Fat over ribs feels spongy. Fat around tailhead feels soft. Fat beginning to be deposited along the side of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck.
  7. Fleshy: May have crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat. Fat around tailhead is soft. Fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along neck.
  8. Fat: Crease down back. Difficult to feel ribs. Fat around tailhead very soft. Area along withers filled with fat. Area behind shoulder filled with fat. Noticeable thickening of neck. Fat deposited along inner thigh.
  9. Extremely Fat: Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appearing over ribs. Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. Fat along inner thighs may rub together. Flank filled with fat.
What should your goals be and how do you apply body condition scores to management decisions?
 
In general, horses ideally score in the 5 – 6 BCS range, but ultimately beauty is in the eye of the beholder: an athletic performance animal may drift in the 4 – 5 range, while brood mares have been proven to be more reproductively efficient in the 6 – 7 BCS ball park.
 
BCS are very useful in making management decisions, especially when considering nutrition and health strategies. A thin horse (1 – 3 BCS) will require a higher plain of nutrition to gain weight and may require different supplementation compared to his contemporaries. Many times, underlying health concerns are causes for a horse falling into these categories. On the other hand, fat horses (7 – 9 BCS) need to consume less calories in order to achieve a healthy weight and avoid development of several metabolic disorders.
 
Give your Countryside Feed representative a call to discuss your horses needs and to develop a nutrition program to help your horses either achieve or maintain an ideal body condition score.
 

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