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Download your Free Body Condition Scoring Chart here.
The body condition scoring (BCS) system assigns a numerical value to fat deposition as it occurs in various places on the horse’s body. The system works by assessing fat both visually and by palpation (examination by touch), in each the following areas: the loin, ribs, tail head, withers, neck, and behind the shoulders. Loin: An extremely thin horse will have a ridge down the back where the back bone projects up. No fat can be felt along the back of the horse. However, this is one of the first areas to fill in as a horse gains weight. As the horse gets fatter, an obvious crease or depression forms down the back because of fat accumulation along the back. Ribs: The next place to look is in the ribs. Visually assess the rib area, and then run your fingers across the rib cage. A very thin horse will have prominent ribs, easily seen and felt, with no fat padding. As the horse begins to gain weight, a little padding can be felt around the ribs; by BCS 5 the ribs will no longer be visible, but can be easily palpated by passing a hand down the rib cage. Once the horse progresses towards obesity, feeling the ribs will be very difficult. Tail head: In a very thin horse up to a BCS of 3, the tail head is prominent and easily visible. Once the horse starts gaining weight, fat fills in around the tail head. Fat can easily be palpated, and as the horse becomes obese, the fat will feel soft and begin to bulge. Withers: Conformation of the withers may affect your assessment of body condition. The prominence or sharpness of the withers may vary between breeds; a Thoroughbred typically has more prominent withers than a Quarter Horse. However, if a horse is very thin, the underlying structure of the withers will be easily visible. At a BCS of 5, the withers will appear rounded. At a BCS of 6 through 8, varying degrees of fat deposits can be felt along the withers. In obese horses, the withers will be bulging with fat. Neck: The neck allows for refining the assessment of body condition. In an extremely thin horse, you will be able to see the bone structure of the neck, and the throatlatch will be very trim. As the horse gains condition, fat will be deposited down the top of the neck. A BCS of 8 is characterized by a neck that is thick all around with fat evident at the crest and the throatlatch. Shoulder: The shoulder will also help you refine the condition score. As a horse gains weight, fat is deposited around the shoulder to help it blend smoothly with the body. At increasing condition scores, fat is deposited behind the shoulder, especially in the region behind the elbow.
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