Body Condition Scoring: Prevalence and Frequency
What is Body Condition Scoring (BCS)?
Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is an objective system of evaluating a horse's level of body condition (amount of stored fat) and assessing a numeric score to facilitate comparisons between horses. Many owners fail to recognize significant variations in the weight of horses or variations due to age and breed types. (www.omafra.gov)
How do I BCS?
There are six points of measurement along the horse to determine the BCS: Along the neck, along the withers, crease down back, tailhead, ribs, and behind the shoulder. This is standard BCS procedure. For consistency between horses/sessions, starting at the head and palpating down to the tailhead is best. When scoring, it focuses on critical areas of the body, based on palpable fat and visual appearance. Once this data is collected, the horse is scored on a scale of 1-9, 1 being “poor” and 9 being “extremely fat”. Ideally, horses should fluctuate between a 5-6.5 depending on breed, workload and age.
Here is a video from the University of Minnesota on how to BCS.
What if my horse isn’t in the “ideal” range?
If your horse is above the ideal range (7-9) take a look at your horse’s feeding program and exercise regimen. Is your horse getting too many calories from its feed and/or hay? Is your horse getting enough exercise? What about both? What breed is your horse? (Draft, Quarter Horse, Warmblood, miniature pony.)
Some breeds of horses may be more apt to belong in a certain “breed ideal” range for their breed type. Draft, Warmblood and miniature horses are prone to being “fleshier” or “easy keepers” and often times have a harder time getting into the 5-5.5 range. However, depending on circumstances, aiming to get your horse to the 6 or even 6.5 BCS would be ideal for your horse. Don’t fret if you can’t shave that extra 0.5 BCS. These breeds shouldn’t be “starved” and/or deprived of their lowest needs (1-1.5% body weight in hay, and either a ration balancer or a trace mineral salt lick) to get the horse down to a 5-5.5 BCS.
On the other hand, (or hoof!) some breeds are considered “hard keepers”, or horses that have a harder time maintaining a BCS above a 5, usually they fluctuate between a 4-4.5. If a harder keeper can maintain a healthy lifestyle and reside at a 4.5 (meaning some ribs are showing but all other points of measurement are ideal) then, again, there’s no need to fret over that 0.5 BCS.
If your horse scores well below (1-3.5) the ideal range, consult your equine nutritionist or veterinarian before changing your feed program. Underlying health issues, malnutrition/starvation, age or inverse ratio of caloric intake to exercise may be the reason. Breed type is also a contributing factor to consider. (Thoroughbred, Standardbred).
- If your horse is malnourished or coming from a state of starvation, consult your veterinarian on the proper feeding program to get your horse back to the ideal range. This will take a long time to achieve, but is possible.
- If your horse has underlying health issues that have been diagnosed by your veterinarian, consult with them or an equine nutrition for the proper feeding program. Some health conditions that affect BCS are PPID and EMS.
- If your horse has an inverse ratio of caloric intake to exercise, reevaluate your current feeding program. What is the dietary makeup of your hay (hay analysis)? Are you feeding the minimum recommended feeding amount of the grain? Is there an amino acid supplement your horse should go on to help with recovery?
If you have any questions regarding your current feeding program, please feel free to contact Alli with Southern States utilizing the contact information below.
How do I know if my horse should be in the “ideal” range?
As previously stated, some horses my not fall along the “ideal” range of 5-6.5 for a BCS. Some breeds of horses, such as Thoroughbreds, are harder keepers and require leniency when BCS. For harder keepers that may never get past a 4.5 because its ribs are showing, maintaining that BCS should be the priority.
How often should I BCS my horse?
Even if you are out everyday looking at your horse, its recommended that you do a proper BCS at least once a week to once a month, depending on workload and breed type. For horses on proper management for their BCS and “keeper” state (easy vs. hard), once a month should suffice. However, if your horse is a hard keeper and you’re just attempting to change the feeding program its on, BCS once a week will only benefit the new feeding program, especially if you don’t have access to a scale. The same goes for easy keepers as well.
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