Weight has forever served as an assessment of overall health in the horse world, and has been a controversial issue for just as long. Numbers can be misleading and opinions vary – what seems desirable to one, can have the air of neglect to another. There is no such thing as a body mass index for horses and weight tapes can only offer a vague estimate of weight, as they do not compensate for differences in breed, age, or sex.
However, the Body Condition Score is an objective assessment of general health and is considered the industry standard for determining appropriate level of condition for horses. The system assigns a numerical value, or score, according to fat deposition on various places on the body. This is done by assessing fat both visually and by touch in each of six areas – loin, ribs, tailhead, withers, neck, and shoulder. Horses accumulate fat in these areas in a set order, and the order is the same regardless of breed, age, or sex. Scores range from one to nine – most consider five to be “ideal”, with one classified as “emaciated” and nine as “obese”. It will not indicate how fit your horse is for training or performance, since it does not measure muscle.
This system was developed to eliminate subjective opinions that have different meanings to different individuals. It is considered a scientific form of evaluating condition and is accepted in a court of law. References on body condition score are readily available and easy to interpret with a bit of practice.