Rural Heritage Vet Clinic

Normal Body Condition

by Janice Sojka, VMD, & Mark Russell

Body condition, or a horse's degree of fat cover, is a good indicator of its general health. Although proper body condition depends a great deal on the horse's use, a condition scoring system designed to gauge reproductive efficiency in mares can serve as a guide to judging the health and fitness of all horses.

An animal with a score between 4 and 6 on this scale may be considered healthy. A score below 4 or above 6 indicates the likelihood of metabolic and other health problems.

1. Poor
Animal extremely emaciated. Spinous processes (top of the backbone—in the shoulder area it's the withers; in the pelvis it's the palpable top of the spine in the middle of the back), ribs, tailhead, and point of hip and point of buttocks project prominently; bone structure of withers, shoulders, and neck easily noticeable; no fatty tissue can be felt.

2. Very Thin
Animal emaciated. Slight fat covering over the base of spinous processes; transverse processes (portion of the vertebrae that sticks out to the sides in the lumbar region behind the ribs), of the lumbar vertebrae feel rounded; spine, ribs, tailhead, point of hip, and point of buttocks prominent; withers, shoulders, and neck structures faintly discernible.

3. Thin
Fat is built up about halfway in the spinous processes; transverse processes cannot be felt; slight fat cover over the ribs; spinous processes and ribs easily discernible; tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be individually identified; point of buttocks appear rounded but are not easily discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck accentuated.

4. Moderately
Thin Slight ridge along back; faint outline of ribs discernible; tailhead prominence depends on conformation, but fat can be felt around it; point of hip not discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck not obviously thin.

5. Moderate
Back is flat (no crease or ridge); ribs not visually distinguishable but easily felt; fat around tailhead feel slightly spongy; withers appear rounded over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

6. Moderate to Fleshy
May be slight crease down back; fat over ribs is spongy; fat to fleshy. Around tailhead is soft; a little fat deposited along the side of the withers, behind the shoulders, and along the sides of neck.

7. Fleshy
May have crease down back; individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable fat is 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 very soft; area along withers filled with fat; area behind shoulder filled with fat; noticeable thickening of neck; fat deposited along inner thighs.

9. Extremely Fat
Obvious crease down back; patchy fat appearing over ribs; bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck; fat along inner thighs may cause thighs to rub together; flank filled with fat.

Possible Reasons for a Poor Score


Janice Sojka, VMD, is in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue University. Mark Russell is with Purdue's Department of Animal Sciences. Their scoring system is adapted from “Horse Industry Handbook” put out by the American Youth Horse Council.

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26 October 2011 last revision