Normal Body Condition
by Janice Sojka, VMD, & Mark Russell
Body condition, or a horse's degree of fat cover, is a good
indicator of its general health. Although proper body condition depends a great
deal on the horse's use, a condition scoring system designed to gauge
reproductive efficiency in mares can serve as a guide to judging the health and
fitness of all horses.
An animal with a score between 4 and 6 on this scale may be considered
healthy. A score below 4 or above 6 indicates the likelihood of metabolic and
other health problems.
Animal extremely emaciated. Spinous processes (top of
the backbonein the shoulder area it's the withers; in the pelvis it's the
palpable top of the spine in the middle of the back), ribs, tailhead, and point
of hip and point of buttocks project prominently; bone structure of withers,
shoulders, and neck easily noticeable; no fatty tissue can be felt.
2. Very Thin
Animal emaciated. Slight fat covering over the base
of spinous processes; transverse processes (portion of the vertebrae that sticks
out to the sides in the lumbar region behind the ribs), of the lumbar vertebrae
feel rounded; spine, ribs, tailhead, point of hip, and point of buttocks
prominent; withers, shoulders, and neck structures faintly discernible.
Fat is built up about halfway in the spinous processes;
transverse processes cannot be felt; slight fat cover over the ribs; spinous
processes and ribs easily discernible; tailhead prominent, but individual
vertebrae cannot be individually identified; point of buttocks appear rounded
but are not easily discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck accentuated.
Thin Slight ridge along back; faint outline of
ribs discernible; tailhead prominence depends on conformation, but fat can be
felt around it; point of hip not discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck not
Back is flat (no crease or ridge); ribs not visually
distinguishable but easily felt; fat around tailhead feel slightly spongy;
withers appear rounded over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly
6. Moderate to Fleshy
May be slight crease down back; fat over
ribs is spongy; fat to fleshy. Around tailhead is soft; a little fat deposited
along the side of the withers, behind the shoulders, and along the sides of
May have crease down back; individual ribs can be
felt, but noticeable fat is between ribs; fat around tailhead is soft; fat is
deposited along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck.
Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs; fat around
tailhead very soft; area along withers filled with fat; area behind shoulder
filled with fat; noticeable thickening of neck; fat deposited along inner
9. Extremely Fat
Obvious crease down back; patchy fat appearing
over ribs; bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders, and
along neck; fat along inner thighs may cause thighs to rub together; flank
filled with fat.
Possible Reasons for a Poor Score
Janice Sojka, VMD, is in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
at Purdue University. Mark Russell is with Purdue's Department of Animal
Sciences. Their scoring system is adapted from “Horse Industry Handbook” put out
by the American Youth Horse Council.