photo: Dr. Milo Luxardo


Body Conditioning Scoring:
A useful skill for horse owners
by Gayle Ecker, B.A., B.Ed. M.Sc., Leslie Huber D.V.M. and Wendy Driscoll, R.A.E.
Equine Research Centre, Guelph, Ontario

Body condition scoring is a hands-on, subjective method for evaluating a horse's condition or fat cover. During colder months, this method will keep you aware of minor weight changes before your horse reaches a serious (2-3) condition. Perfect for use in climates where winter hair and blankets may hide the "real" horse. Temperature extremes over extended time periods, may change feed requirements to maintain a horse's condition.

Lost condition may result in increased training time and feed costs. It is usually easier to get extra weight off than try to put weight on. An increase of 1 condition score requires 16-20 kg of weight gain. For a 500 kg horse, a change in score from 4 to 5 will need a daily increase of 5.3-6.7 Mcal/day above maintenance or about 1.5 flakes of hay more, per day. At this rate, it will take 60 days to put the weight on! Ask your friends to participate and evaluate monthly!



Body Scores and Appearances:

1. Extremely thin.
The horse is extremely emaciated. The backbone, ribs, hipbones and tailhead are all prominent. The neck is hollow, and the bones of the shoulders, withers and neck are easily discerned. Individual vertebrae are clearly seen and easily palpated. No fat can be palpated.

2. Very thin.
The back bone is prominent, ribs, tailhead, and pelvic bone stand out. Bone structures of the neck, withers, and shoulder are evident. Individual vertebrae can be seen and easily palpated. Animal is emaciated.

3. Thin.
The backbone is prominent . A slight fat layer can be felt over the ribs, the tailhead is evident, but individual vertebrae cannot be seen. The hip bones cannot be seen, but withers, shoulder and neck are emphasized.

4. Moderately Thin.
A negative crease along its back. An outline of the ribs can be seen. Fat is palpable around the tailhead. Hip bones bones cannot be seen. Withers, neck and shoulders are not obviously thin.

5. Moderate.
Back is level. Ribs can be felt but not easily seen. Fat around tailhead feels spongy. Withers are rounded and shoulders and neck blend smoothly into the body.

6. Moderately Fleshy.
A slight crease is along the back. Fat on the tailhead feels soft. Fat over the ribs is spongy. Small deposits of fat along the withers, behind the shoulders and along the neck.

7. Fleshy.
A crease is seen down the back. Ribs may be felt but fat between ribs is obvious. Fat on tailhead is soft. Noticeable fat along neck, behind shoulders and withers.

8. Fat.
Crease down back is prominent. Ribs difficult to feel due to fat in between. Wither area is filled with fat, and very soft fat over tailhead. The space behind shoulders is filled in and flush, and there is fat along the inner buttocks.

9. Extremely Fat.
The crease down the back is very prominent. Fat is in patches over rib area, with bulging fat over tailhead, withers, neck and shoulders. Fat along inner buttocks may rub together and flank is filled in flush.

Adapted from Henneke et al (1983) Equine Veterinary Journal 15: 371-372.

Suggested Condition Scores
for Different Disciplines:


Cavalo de Endurance
Open mare
Stallion (off season)
Standardbred racehorse
Thoroughbred racehorse
Breeding stallion
Quarter horse
Show hack
Pregnant mare



Adapted from Feeding and Nutrition, The Making of a Champion by John Kohnke, 1992, page 165, Birubi Pacific.