Body Condition Score

Is your horse fat?  Or is it just a grass belly?

 

Are you familiar with body condition scoring (BCS)? What are the benefits of using BCS and why does it matter?

 

Body condition scoring (BCS), is an impartial way to evaluate your horse's weight and welfare. It is a useful tool to assist in decision making regarding general management (including diet, feeding regimes and exercise).

By keeping horses within an optimum BCS, we can keep your horse happy and active for longer and also decrease the risk of certain disorders such as colic, laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome and other diseases related to feed management.

 

In the 1980s, two body condition scores were developed. The American (scale from 1 to 9), where 1 signifies emaciation and 9 indicating extreme obesity. The later developed Australian (scale from 1 to 5) where 1 indicates emaciation and 5, obesity. 

 

Today, we will discuss the American scale where studies have been undertaken by “Kentucky Equine Research” to provide a list of recommended body condition scores for horses across multiple disciplines.

 

According to research, horses used for endurance, eventing, polo and ranch work should score 4 to 5. Thoroughbred and standardbred racehorses as well as breeding stallions and non-pregnant mares should score between 4 and 6. Jumpers, dressage ponies, quarter horses and stallions in the non-breeding season should score between 5 to 7. Pregnant mares and most ponies have a recommended score slightly higher, 6 to 8.

 

The size of a horse's belly is insignificant compared to other areas we can look at. We tend to put more emphasis on any thickening of the neck, fat covering the withers, fat deposits along the back, flanks, inner thigh, around the tail head and behind the shoulder, as well as any fat covering the ribs. Click the button below to see the attached chart from Kentucky Equine Research which provides a visual aid for BCS.

 

As each horse is an individual, other parameters should be taken into account such as metabolism, workload and temperament. Owners should consult a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to evaluate their horse appropriately and who may recommend a suitable diet plan.

If your horse has continual access to forage or fresh grass and you want to reduce its grass belly, you can reduce its access to grass by half and reassess in 3 - 5 days.