Reviewing horse body condition scoring

When it comes to horse care, there are a few things that should be reviewed every year, among these is body condition scoring (BCS), says Rebecca Bott, SDSU Extension Equine Specialist.

“The fact is one size doesn’t fit all. As with humans, it may be difficult to select an ideal weight for all horses. Breed influence and bone mass can play a big role in how much a horse might weight,” Bott said. “If you said that horses should weigh 1,200 pounds then someone raising Belgium Drafts is going to have a lot of very skinny horses on hand, while an Arabian farm might be stocked with horses a little hefty for their frame.”

In order to effectively manage each horse, Bott recommends using a body condition score. This scale is set from 1 to 9 where a score of 1 would be given to a horse that is extremely emaciated, and a score of 9 to an extremely obese horse. The BCS was first described by Henneke in 1983.

“One advantage of the BCS is that is can be used for horses regardless of the size of their frame,” Bott said.

Presence or absence of fat stores along key areas including the backbone, ribs, hips, tailhead, shoulder, and neck determine the score.

Brief descriptions of each score include:

1 – Emaciated: No fat can be seen or felt.

2 – Very thin: Ribs, hips, and vertebrae are prominent.

3 – Thin: Ribs are easily discernible, but fat layers are forming over hip bones, vertebrae, and neck.

4 – Moderatly thin: Ribs can be faintly seen, and a negative crease is forming over the back.

5 – Moderate: This horse has a more smooth appearance as a result of fat deposits over body. The ribs can be felt, but not easily seen.

6 – Moderately fleshy: Fat over the tailhead, neck and ribs will feel soft and spongy. The sides of the withers are filling in.

7 – Fleshy: A crease can be seen down the back. While ribs may still be felt, there is a noticeable filling of fat between them and along the withers, neck, and behind the shoulders.

8 – Fat: This horse has enough fat cover that the area behind the shoulder has blended with the barrel. The crease down the back is prominent.

9 – Extremely fat: Bulging fat may be seen at tailhead, withers, neck and behind the shoulder.

Determining a horse’s ideal body condition score depends on the use of the horse, explains Bott.

“For example, race horses tend to carry a little less condition than a sport horse used for dressage,” she said.

Regardless of the use, Bott tells horse owners that both ends of the scale should be avoided as horses that are too thin or too fat will be at elevated risks for health problems.

“A body condition score of 5 or 6 is generally a good target to maintain,” Bott said. “Hair coats can be deceiving, as a fluffy winter coat might make a horse appear to have more body condition. Use your eyes and your hands when scoring your horses to make the most accurate assessment.”

If horse owners would like an illustrated Equine Body Condition Score Sheet she suggests they visit,

If you would like help scoring your horses, or think your horse may need a change in diet as a result of being too thin, or too fat consult your local SDSU Extension Field Specialist, veterinarian, nutritionist or experienced trainer.

More information about horse care and SDSU Extension staff contact information can be found at F

–SDSU Extension