Skip to content

October 8, 2011

Equine Body Condition Score

by Melissa
The body condition score was developed in 1983 by Texas A&M University. The Henneke System offers a subjective way to evaluate the condition of the horse. The body condition refers to the amount of fat that is distributed on the horse’s body. The main areas that are examined in the body condition score include the neck, withers, shoulder, ribs, loins and the tailhead.

The amount of fat is easily seen and palpated on the horse. When evaluating the body condition of a horse, you will want to get close to the horse and feel the fat deposits in these areas. You are also able to follow the chart to determine the score of the horse. A horse is able to fall into half ranges in the scoring. This is an excellent way to describe your horse’s condition to a vet or trainer or even a prospective buyer if they are knowledgeable of the system.

Body Score of 1. This horse was photographed by a Flickr user in Nicaragua. As global poverty continues to grow, animal starvation grows with it.

1. Poor. Animal is extremely emaciated. Spinous processes (portion of the vertebra of the backbone which project upward), ribs, tailhead, and bony protrusions of the pelvic girdle (hooks and pins) are prominent. Bone structure of withers, shoulders, and neck are easily noticeable. No fatty tissues can be felt.

2. Very Thin. Animal is emaciated. Slight fat covering over base of the spinous processes. Transverse processes (portion of vertebrae which project outward) of lumbar (loin area) vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes, ribs, shoulders, and neck structures are faintly discernible.

3. Thin. Fat is built up about halfway on spinous processes. Transverse processes cannot be felt.
Slight fat cover over ribs. Spinous processes and ribs are easily discernible. Tailhead is prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. Hook bones (protrusion of pelvic girdle appearing in upper, forward part of the hip) appear
rounded, but are easily discernible. Pin bones (bony projections of pelvic girdle located toward rear, mid-section of the hip) are not distinguishable. Withers, shoulders, and neck are accentuated.

4. Moderately Thin. Negative crease along back (spinous processes of vertebrae protrude slightly above surrounding tissue). Faint outline of ribs is discernible. Fat can be felt around tailhead (prominence depends on conformation). Hook bones are
not discernible. Withers, shoulders, and neck are
not obviously thin.

5. Moderate. Back is level. Ribs cannot be visually distinguished, but can be easily felt. Fat around tailhead begins to feel spongy. Withers appear rounded over spinous processes. Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

This BLM Mustang has a nearly ideal body condition score of 5.

6. Moderate to Fleshy. May have slight crease down back. Fat over ribs feels spongy. Fat around tailhead feels soft. Fat begins to be deposited along the sides of the withers, behind the shoulders, and along sides of neck.

7. Fleshy. May have crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but with noticeable filling of fat
between ribs. Fat around tailhead is soft. Fat is deposited along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck.

8. Fat. Crease down back. Difficult to feel ribs. Fat around tailhead is very soft. Area along withers is
filled with fat. Area behind shoulder is filled in flush with rest of the body. Noticeable thickening of neck. Fat is deposited along inner buttocks.

This horse is overweight. His body score is 8-9. Notice the fat crease on his back.

9. Extremely fat. Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appears over ribs. Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck. Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. Flank is filled in flush with rest of the body.

This is the exact chart that was developed by Henneke, at Texas A&M University. The chart has become widely used by all equine professionals across the United States. This is possibly one of the only measurements in the equine industry that has not resulted in complete controversy and has become a standard to be followed. This chart will not necessarily work for ponies and donkeys as they lay their fat in abnormal areas, but is appropriate for all horse breeds.

For more great information and a fabulous growing equine community please visit our resource links below. We will leave the barn door open for you! Hope to see you soon.


Ron Petracek was raised in rural southern Idaho. With the snake river and a beautiful 16 hand jet black morgan as his adventure companion. Horses and the outdoors are engraphed within his DNA. If you would like to take part in helping others learn more about horses. Please visit our equine forum. “We always leave the barn door open on purpose for new friends! Just click Here –> To experience Equine Classifieds in a dynamic way, please visit

Article Source:


Comments are closed.