August 18, 2020 3 min read

Why is Body Condition Important?

Maintaining a healthy weight is just as important for our horses as it is for us. Actually it's incredibly important to prioritize healthy body weights in all our domestic animals. 

Our animals rely on us to keep them at a healthy weight, they dont understand that if they eat too much, they will be uncomfortable and be more susceptible to painful diseases!

As Humans we understand this, so we have no excuse, however our animals need us to regulate their diets to include healthy ingredients at an appropriate dose for good health.

Obesity can cause or worsen a whole host of health issues that can be painful and even lead to death.

  • Exercise tolerance - Obesity reduces the body's tolerance for exercise
  • Respiratory - Horse can have more difficulty breathing when they are grossly overweight.
  • Cardiovascular - the heart is under more strain in obese horses.
  • Heat tolerance - Overweight horses have a much lower heat tolerance.
  • Arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders - The heavier your horse is, the more strain, wear and tear will be on the joints and body structures. Joints and ligaments will be more susceptible to injury.
  • Laminitis - it is clear that with a better diet and exercise, and less strain on the body and hooves, Laminitis can be more easily managed when body weight is optimal.


What is Body Condition Scoring?

Body Condition Scoring is s system of visual assessment and palpation to determine how much fat and muscle a horse has regardless of body size. It is used to determine whether a horse is underweight, healthy weight or overweight and is not affected by gut contents or pregnancy as live weight would be.

There are several scales, however for this exercise we will describe the Henneke scale chart.


How do you use the Body Condition Scale?

The Henneke scale involves assessing 6 specific locations on the horses body to determine how thin or fat the horse is.

A value between 1-9 is given to each 6 areas. These are then added together then divided by 6 to get the average.

A score between 4-6 is generally considered healthy. For an IR horse prone to Laminitis to remain healthy, you’re aiming at between 4.5-5.



The picture below shows the six main areas we need to assess and score. Individually give each area a score between 1-9 according to the descriptions on the chart. Add these scores up and divide by 6 to get an average.

When assessing these areas on the horse, use the table below to determine which number to assign to each area.


So according to the Henneke Scale of Body Condition, a horse within a healthy weight will have the following characteristics:

  1. NECK - not obviously fleshy but with good tone - no bones or fat deposits felt.
  2. WITHERS - Moderately covered over spinous processes - not obviously thin or covered in fat.
  3. SHOULDERS - Blend into body - no bones can be obviously felt and no fatty deposits.
  4. RIBS - Not visually distinguished but easily felt.
  5. LOINS - Back is level - no spine is protruding and no positive crease or depression where spine runs.
  6. TAIL HEAD - Flesh feels soft each side of tail - no protruding spine or soft fleshy deposits of fat.

It's good practice to get familiar with your horses body condition score and monitor it throughout the year, this way you can make management changes early if you notice a problem arising!

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