Determining the condition of your horse’s body can be very beneficial and eye-opening to a horse owner. The Henneke Body Condition Scoring Chart is useful to most authoritative figures who might be handling an animal abuse case or an animal that might be in questionable health. Veterinarians use this scale every day to determine whether or not an animal is in their ideal weight range or not. The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System is a standardized method of scoring a horse’s body condition so that terms like “skinny,” “fat” or “wasted” do not get misinterpreted, as one person’s definition of these words could mean something totally different than somebody else.
This scoring system ranges from 1-9; 1 being “poor” with no body fat and 9 being “extremely fat” or unable to feel the horse’s ribs. “5” on the chart is considered to be the ideal body condition score for any given horse. The six parts of the horse that the scoring system focuses on are the neck, withers, shoulders, ribs, loins and tail head. All of these areas are where fat can be noticed or accumulated the easiest. You can notice major changes to a horse’s body by looking at these six areas of importance on a daily or weekly basis.
To determine the “score” that a particular area on the body receives you must be able to touch the horse is that area without being afraid of palpating the area too heavily. You cannot simply stand there and look at the animal and come up with an accurate score. You really have to use your hands to stroke the area to measure how much fat there is or how much bone you feel. It can be tough to judge a horse with a longer hair coat, but that is why it is imperative that you put your hands on the animal to determine an accurate score.
After you’ve scored each area of the body, add the numbers together and divide that by 6. This will give you the resulting overall score on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Chart.
Using this chart can be very useful to horse owners that want to keep track of their horse’s body weight on a consistent or monitoring basis. It is extremely important to monitor a foal or mare’s progress when in the birthing or post-partum stage of their lives. A foal can develop a very prominent belly when they are weaned off of their mother’s milk. This is a normal feature for a foal. Pregnant mares will seem to gain a lot of weight in their belly when they are late in their gestation/pregnancy. Nutrition is extremely important at this stage of the mare’s pregnancy. That is why if you are caring for a pregnant mare you need to be scoring her body condition either every day or every other day to make sure that she’s staying on track with her pregnancy and nutritional requirements.
Sometimes a horse’s conformation can seem strange depending on that horse’s regular routine and/or exercise regimen. You may notice different fatty areas or muscle development on one horse’s body that isn’t there on another horse. This could also be because every horse is built uniquely. This is called a horse’s “conformation” or how they’re put together for their particular breed, sport or age bracket. Some horses may be proportioned differently than others or they may be disproportional altogether. Also, in the winter months most horses grow a thicker coat, which could also make them look larger than they actually are. Providing the proper amount of forage in the winter months is essential to how the horse regulates their body temperature during the coldest time of the year. The more forage they have, the better able they are to stay warmer in the winter months. Horses are “hind-gut fermentators” and the fermenting produces extra body heat for the horse to use to stay warm when it’s most important.
Although the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Chart can be somewhat confusing at times, you will have a much better idea as to where your horse lies on the “ideal” spectrum when it comes to their physical makeup. This chart is designed to be used by all horse owners or people who just want to learn about horses and how to tell if they’re a healthy animal or not. If you have any questions about whether or not your horse or somebody else’s horse is getting the proper nutrition, please don’t hesitate to call or email The River Road Veterinary Clinic with your questions or concerns. We look forward to hearing from you!