Horsemen expect a lot from their horses, physically and mentally, from negotiating steep terrain to roping or turning a cow at high speed. It’s a horse owner’s responsibility to monitor their horses and offer them the highest quality feed, supplements and care possible, because what goes into a horse shows on the outside.

A good indication of a horse’s overall health is its body condition score, based on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System. Nutrition, parasites, disease, stress and other underlying issues can affect a horse’s body condition. It’s imperative that owners strive to keep horses at an optimum body condition so they can feel good and perform at their best. Horses are categorized by the following body condition descriptors:

Emaciated: Backbone, tailhead, ribs and hipbones prominent. Bone structure of neck, withers and shoulders are easily visible. No fat palpable over the loins.

Very Thin: Ribs and hipbones prominent. Backbone and tailhead slightly less prominent. Bone structure of neck, withers and shoulders faintly discernible. Slight fat layer palpable over loins.

Thin: Backbone and tailhead prominent, but individual tailhead vertebrae aren’t visible. Ribs and hipbones have slight fat covering, but are easily visible. Withers, neck and shoulders accentuated, but not obviously thick. Bones of loins are difficult to feel.

Lean (ideal): Slight ridge over loins and faint outline of ribs visible. Fat palpable around tailhead, which might or might not be prominent. Hipbones not visible. Withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.

Moderate: Back is flat with no crease or ridge. Ribs aren’t visible, but easily felt. Spongy fat around tailhead, withers rounded, shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

Moderate Fleshy: Might have a slight crease down the back. Ribs barely palpable with light pressure. Soft fat around tailhead. Some fat palpable on side of withers, neck and behind shoulders.

Fleshy: Might have crease down the back. Ribs are difficult to feel. Fat deposited along withers, behind shoulder and along neck.

Fat: Crease down the back. Ribs very difficult to feel. Fat around tailhead is very soft. Fat fills area over withers and behind shoulders with noticeable thickening of neck. Fat deposited over inner thighs.

Obese: Prominent crease down back. Patchy fat deposits over ribs. Fat Bulging around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. Fat along inner thighs might cause them to rub together. Flank filled with fat (no abdominal tuck).

body condition scoring guide from western horseman special promotion section

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