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Body Condition Scoring of Horses

Being able to judge how much to feed your horse fundamentally depends on the horse body condition. Fat horses need less, skinny horses need more, simples!  

It does sound simple but there are occasions when it’s not quite so straightforward. An Arab horse will have an entirely different frame and build to an Irish draught. The pregnant mare is a perfect example of how a big belly does not mean a fat horse. Likewise, a horse in poor condition with a high parasite burden (worms) can have a big pot belly. Other factors such as age, fitness and metabolic diseases can also have an effect.

The body condition scoring is a system of appraising the condition of a horse based not just on how big the belly is. Horses store fat in different areas of the body: The neck and topline, over their shoulders, ribs, backbone, rump and the top of the tail.

There are two body condition scoring systems used for grading;

  1. The Carroll and Huntington system, Grade 0 (emaciated) to Grade 5 (obese). Half points can be used within this scale for greater accuracy.
  2. The Henneke System which grades horses from Grade 1 (emaciated) to grade 9 (obese).

It doesn’t matter which scale you prefer to use. The aim is to be able to recognise the condition of the horse and so be able to judge the feed requirement.

The Carroll and Huntington System

The Carroll and Huntington system is the more frequently used system in Ireland and the UK.

The Carroll and Huntington System

Body Condition Scoring System

The descriptions used here to describe the Grades of the Carroll and Huntington Method are those used by the Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines Compendium for Horses, Ponies and Donkeys (Third Edition). Published by the National Equine Welfare Council. (UK).

Horses that are Grade 0 or Grade 1 will often need interventions other than just increasing feed. They usually benefit from veterinary and dental attention. If you think your horse is Grade 2 (Moderate) in spite of feed and fitness, veterinary intervention is advised as there may be an underlying issue that is preventing the horse from thriving.

Traditionally horses graded as “Fat” or “Very Fat” are advised to have restricted feed and increased exercise. This is usually good advice but it is worth remembering that there are some diseases such as Laminitis, Cushing’s disease and Equine Metabolic disease which may cause inappropriate fat deposition and will need to be carefully treated.

Stallions will often have a crested neck that is associated with sexual maturity and not an indicator of body condition.

The old rule of thumb: You should be able to feel but not see the ribs” is mostly dependable. If you have any queries about your horse’s body condition score or how much or what to feed, please contact the nutrition team.

  • Tags:
  • Horses
  • Body Condition Scoring
  • Carroll and Huntington System
  • Henneke System