Understanding the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System (BCS) can help you determine if your horse needs more food or a structured diet.

In a perfect world, all horses would be satisfied with the same hay and grain ration. In the real world, it’s unlikely that a one-size fits all approach is sufficient. Unless a horse is emaciated or obese, it may not be possible to tell by quick glance if a horse is at the “ideal” weight. Understanding the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System and an easy weight calculation can take the guess work out of determining your horse’s weight.

Most horses, including performance horses and growing horses, should be in a body score of 5-6. Back is flat; ribs easily felt, but not visually distinguishable. Fat around tailhead feels a bit spongy. Withers round over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

Most horses, including performance horses and growing horses, should be in a body score of 5-6. Back is flat; ribs easily felt, but not visually distinguishable. Fat around tailhead feels a bit spongy. Withers round over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

What is the BCS? 

BCS is a method used for estimating the amount of fat on a horse’s body. The system was developed by Don Henneke, Ph.D. while he was a graduate student at Texas A&M University. Conducting a BCS exam can be as quick as running one’s hands over each of the six locations. Most importantly though it’s making sure the horse is at the correct weight for its size and activity level.

In general, a horse that scores five is considered at an ideal weight. A horse rated one through four is classified as emaciated to moderately thin. Those rated six to nine are labeled as moderately fleshy to obese. The “ideal” depends on the horse’s breed, age, purpose and climate.

Determining your horse’s weight 

If only your horse could step on the bathroom scale...tracking his weight would be easy. Scales may be available at some equine clinics or training facilities, it isn’t a viable option for the majority of horse owners.

An easier alternative is the weight tape. Wrapping this popular tool around the horse’s heart girth provides an estimation. It’s designed for the average light breed horse so must be used carefully for draft horses and minis.

However, a simple calculation provides a more accurate assessment. The formula uses the horse’s heart girth (HG) and body length (BL) based on his age. Measure the heart girth by placing a measuring tape about four inches behind the shoulder. Measure the body length from the point of the shoulder to the horse’s rump. This is similar, but not the same as measuring for a blanket.

Plug those measurements into one of the calculations below:

  • 2yr & older: (HG x HG x BL) / 330
  • Yearling: (HG x HG x BL) / 301
  • Weanling: (HG x HG x BL) / 280

What if my horse is too thin?

Health problems and not enough calories are two reasons your horse is too thin. Bad teeth, disease and other disorders may be to blame. Increasing a horse’s forage (hay or pasture) is a good starting place. Additional calories through grain or supplements should be done slowly and carefully. There are many great options to choose from.

Before selecting a new grain or supplement, take into consideration the amount and quality of forage along with the amount of grain and type of grain you are currently feeding. Also, consider your horse’s age and performance level. Many grains are categorized by life stage and performance level such as those in Kent Nutrition Group’s Sentinel line of feeds.

What if my horse is too fat? 

Ask your veterinarian to test for insulin resistance and rule out metabolic issues. Then work with your vet or an equine nutritionist to decrease the horse’s calorie intake. Adding exercise and turnout can also help. Easy keepers may require turnout on a dry lot or a grazing muzzle to limit overindulgence.

What if I don’t know if my horse is too thin, too fat or just right?

If you are unsure about your horse’s weight, then reach out to a professional that can teach you what to look for and help you care for your horse such as an equine nutritionist at a feed company or your veterinarian. To learn more about the Sentinel line of feeds, visit kentfeeds.com or blueseal.com or reach out to your local Kent Nutrition Group equine nutritional professional.

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