Pilgrims Vets’ equine vets explain healthy body scoring for horses

Pilgrims Vets’ equine vets want to emphasise the importance of knowing your horse’s body score so you can take the best care of their health and welfare.

Obesity in horses is common and puts them at risk of health issues like Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), laminitis, and arthritis. Horses tend to carry fat unevenly across their bodies (neck, shoulders, middle & quarters) even though they may have protruding ribs. Fat feels spongy whereas muscle feels firm, and crest fat is especially dangerous as it hardens after a while and can rock from side to side when walking.

You can measure a horse’s fat using a universal 5-point body scoring chart. Race horses may differ slightly, but in general a healthy fat covering is a score of 2.5 – 3 out of 5 for most horses, unless your vet advises you otherwise.

Download our horse body guide and use it alongside the descriptions below to understand where your horse scores on the chart. Be objective and honest.

Download our horse body guide

Horse body score chart descriptions:

0. Emaciated – No fatty tissue can be felt, skin is tight over the bones. The shape of individual bones are visible. The backbone and pelvis are very prominent. They have a marked ewe-neck, very sunken rump, deep cavity under the tail and a large gap between the thighs.

1. Very Thin – Barely any fatty tissue, shapes of bones are visible. They have a narrow ewe-neck and ribs are easily visible. The backbone, croup and tail head are prominent. Plus, a sunken rump, under-tail cavity, and a gap between the thighs.

2. Very Lean – A very thin layer of fat under the skin can be felt. They have a narrow neck with sharply defined muscles. The backbone is covered but still protrudes. The withers, shoulders and neck are accentuated, and the ribs are just visible. The hip bones are easily visible but rounded, and the rump slopes from the backbone to the point of hips, only rounded if very fit.

3. Healthy Weight – There is a thin layer of fat under the skin. Muscles on the neck are less defined. The shoulders and neck blend smoothly into the body. The back is flat or forms a slight ridge. The ribs are not visible but can be easily felt. The rump is beginning to appear rounded and the hip bones are just visible.

4. Fat – Muscles are hard to determine. Spongy fat is developing on the crest and behind the shoulders. The ribs and pelvis are difficult to feel and the rump is well-rounded (appears apple shaped from behind). There is spongy fat around the tail head and a gutter along the back

5. Obese – The horse has a blocky, bloated appearance and the muscles aren’t visible. The crest is pronounced with hard fat. Pads of fat can be felt instead of rib bones. There is a deep gutter along the back and rump, and lumps of fat around the tail head. The rump is a bulging apple shape and inner thighs are pressing together.

If you think your horse’s weight is concerning or need some help determining this, request an equine visit from one of our vets who will be able to help you, and devise a plan to get your horse on the road to a better weight and health.

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