The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System: Judging if Your Horse is to Fat or Thin

To Fat or To Thin?

 How fat is to fat, how thin is to thin?  These are important questions to ask when concerned about your horse’s health

The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System

We all want our horse to be in the best health possible. One of the visual ways we sometimes judge the health of Ole Paint is by how thin or fat he appears. But how can you really know when his weight is affecting his health?

No one wants to see a horse look like he’s been starved. Ribs and hipbones sticking out are obviously an unhealthy sign, but an obese horse may be in as much or more danger of health problems. Just like in humans, to much extra weight puts a strain on the horse’s heart and lungs, reducing his stamina.

Yet, a well-conditioned race or endurance horse’s ribs can show and it doesn’t mean he is to thin. The age of the horse and what he does are important factors to consider when judging condition. Research shows that fat mares have less reproductive problems that thin horses. But a fat performance horse probably will not perform as well as a thinner, well-conditioned horse.

A scoring system was developed by researchers to judge a horse’s weight called the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System http://www.kentuckyhorse.org/henneke-body-condition-scoring/. It is a standard used to determine a horse’s weight and condition.

The score ranges from poor to extremely fat. The poor horse is extremely emaciated, with bones projecting prominently. The extremely fat horse has an obvious crease down it’s back, fat bulging around the tail head, withers, shoulders and neck, and fat along the inner buttocks that may rub together.

Between these two extremes a horse can be very thin, moderately thin, moderate, moderate to fleshy, fleshy, and fat. The moderate classification is probably what most of us want to see in our horses. The back is level, ribs cannot be seen, but easily felt when touched with your fingers. The withers appear smooth and the shoulders and neck blend smoothly into the body

These mares are at a good weight to provide milk for their foals.
These mares are at a good weight to provide milk for their foals.

Between these two extremes a horse can be very thin, moderately thin, moderate, moderate to fleshy, fleshy, and fat. The moderate classification is probably what most of us want to see in our horses. The back is level, ribs cannot be seen, but easily felt when touched with your fingers. The withers appear smooth and the shoulders and neck blend smoothly into the body.

Sometimes a long, thick winter coat can fool us into thinking our horse is fatter that he really is. It is a good idea to feel along the rib cage to judge the amount of fat your horse is carrying during those months. Cold weather demands more energy for your horse to stay warm and can be a critical time of weight lose.

A young horse, if fed improperly might be fat, but his bones and muscles need protein to grow and develop. So, fat is not necessarily healthy. But, for a pregnant mare or mare nursing a foal, some extra fat can be good. She needs that energy reserve to meet the foal’s demands.

A balanced diet is as important in regulating your horse’s weight as the amount you feed him. While a high-energy ration may be required for a racehorse, a young growing horse has higher protein needs. Your county extension service’s livestock agent can help you determine your horse’s nutritional needs according to its age and amount of work it does.

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irtkris profile image

irtkris 5 years ago from Alberta, Canada

Great hub.

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