How do I body condition score my horse?

How to check the amount of fat on your horse with advice from Bailey's nutritional adviser, Caroline Dickens. 

Ask a friend to help you 

Ask a friend to help you 

A body condition score is a measurement of the amount of stored fat on the horse's body, it's not a measurement of your horse's protein, vitamins and mineral status or overall health.

At Bailey's, we score body condition on a 1-9 scale (you may see it on a 1-5 scale elsewhere) and ideally, a horse needs to be around about 5 (on the 1-9 scale). 

Scores under this are below par and underweight and above it too fat. 

It can be quite difficult to get that 5 score, especially if you're judging it by yourself. 

I find it difficult to body condition score my horse myself because I'm emotionally involved, so get someone else to help you.

When scoring, start with a visual assessment:

  • Ask your horse to stand side on
  • Look at the cannon bone and his body
  • Ask 'does this horse look too big, too small or just right for the legs he's standing on?'

You can then make an assessment using you hands. Feel on the:

  • Neck
  • Withers
  • Over the shoulder
  • Over the ribs
  • Behind the loins
  • Over the tailhead

Fat is lumpy whereas muscle is smooth. Make an assessment both visually and with your hands and give each section (as listed above) a score.

The body condition scoring system

Poor condition (1-3)

  • 1 - Very poor - the horse has no fatty tissue on his neck or withers. The skin is tight over clearly visible ribs and spine. The horse also has an angular pelvis and prominent tailhead. 
  • 2 - Very thin - the horse has a minimal covering on neck. His ribs are clearly visible and the spinous progresses of the horse's spine are clearly defined. The horse's pelvis is also clearly defined. 
  • 3 - Thin - the neck looks thin, the horse's ribs are visible and spinous processes can be seen. There's also minimal fat on his withers and over the spine. 

Moderate condition score (4-6) 

  • 4 - Moderately thin - the horse's neck is narrow, but firm. Ribs just visible. Fat can be felt on tailhead. Spine well covered.
  • 5 - Good - well-muscled in topline and shoulder. Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body. Fat around the tail is slightly spongy. No hollowness in the quarters. Ribs are easily felt, but not seen. 
  • 6 - Moderate to fleshy - some additional fat on neck, withers and shoulder. Ribs not easily felt, fat feels spongy. 

Overweight (7-9)

  • 7 - Fleshy - the horse has a slight crest on his neck. His ribs are covered, but can feel individual ribs. Crease forming down the back. Slight apple bottom. 
  • 8 - Fat - crest enlarged. Gutter along tail to root of tail. Ribs hard to feel. Area along withers fat. Pelvis covered, only felt with firm pressure.
  • 9 - Obese - bulging crest. Ribs cannot be felt. Apple-shaped hindquarters. Deep gutter along spine to root of tail. Fat over withers and ribs.