“Too Fat,” “Too Skinny,” or “Just Right?” Evaluating Your Horse's Weight for His Discipline

“Too Fat,” “Too Skinny,” or “Just Right?” Evaluating Your Horse's Weight for His Discipline

Do you know how much your horse weighs? Are they at the right weight for your riding discipline? Do they have enough muscle to perform at a maximum level? 

Many horse owners don’t know the answer to these questions, but understanding measures like condition and topline scoring can help you evaluate your horse to allow for maximum athletic performance and health according to your discipline. 

Having an accurate weight is the first step in evaluating your horse, and this can easily be measured with a body weight tape. An accurate weight allows you to gauge an appropriate amount of hay and grain to feed. Feeding a minimum of 1.5% of body weight daily if no pasture is provided is a good recommendation for many horses. Most feed companies will also provide guidelines for feeding grain or concentrate per body weight if you are unsure where to start. 

Quantities of Medications, including dewormers, are also determined by body weight, so an accurate measurement is crucial for appropriate administration. Monitoring your horse's weight is also an essential part of a weight management program. 

Knowing your horse's weight is the first step of health management, but another more objective measure is body condition scoring. This evaluates your horse’s body fat reserves, and it provides an ongoing measure of calories consumed versus calories expended. Body condition scores (BCS) range from 1 to with one being extremely emaciated or poor and 9 being extremely fat.

In eventing, a lower BCS is more common. 

This scoring system was developed by Don Henneke in 1983. It is standardized, so it can be used across all breeds. Body condition is measured by visual assessment and through palpation, so no specialized equipment is required. The recommended ideal BCS for horses is a 5 based on this 9-point scale, but most veterinarians agree that range anywhere from 4 to 7 can be appropriate.

So what's right for your horse? For horses involved in timed or speed events, such as barrel racing, cutting, reining, thoroughbred and standardbred racing and eventing, a lower BCS could result in greater speed for performance events, so you could aim for a score of 4.5. 

For horses involved in longer timed events like competitive trail riding and endurance competition, a BCS of 5.0 is recommended as more fat is needed as a fuel reserve. For show events that are not timed or speed-related, a BCS of 5.0 to 6.0 is acceptable.

Some disciplines tend to have higher BCS, such as show hunters and halter horses, where owners like their horses with a more rounded appearance. But since the risk of insulin resistance and laminitis increases with greater fat accumulation, a maximum BCS of 6.0 for all disciplines is advised for optimum health and performance.

Show hunters tend to lean toward a BSC closer to 6. 

Another useful evaluation tool is topline evaluation scoring. The topline refers to the muscle cover or development over the horse’s withers and back, loin and croup. A topline evaluation score (TES) consists of letter scores of A, B, C and D to correspond to the amount of muscle development. These three areas correspond to three major muscles that are present along the horse’s back. A TES of “A” shows the horse has maximum muscle development in all 3 areas, and a TES of “D” shows a lack of muscle development in all three areas.

A topline evaluation score of “A” is required for maximum muscular ability and performance for any discipline, and many horses are lacking of an “A” score. A TES of “A” requires regular exercise and adequate dietary amino acids for muscle development and recovery. But even an inactive horse can improve their TES with an adequate or required amount of dietary protein or essential amino acids. 

Body weight, body condition scoring and topline evaluation scoring are useful tools to increase the performance of your horse for your specific discipline. Weight tapes, BCS charts and TES charts are available from your local ProElite feed retailer or area ProElite feed specialist, or you can send us an email request for them at proelitehorsefeed.com. Your local ProElite feed specialist has been trained in all of these evaluation methods, and can also assist you with free regular evaluations and nutrition planning.

Want to manage your horse like a professional? Check out Max Corcoran’s Masterclass - Horse Care For All Four Seasons.