Too fat, too thin or just right?

Knowing your horse’s weight can be useful for calculating their nutrient requirements, however being able to actually weight your horse can be a though task as most people do not have access to the necessary equipment needed for that. Monitoring condition may be a more useful tool and gives an immediate indication of the current physical state of your horse and is practically useful for the management of feeding and exercise regimes.

By visually assessing your horses body condition you can take into account the amount of body fat that is present, level of muscle tone and overall development. The horses body stores excess dietary calories such as fat, whilst dietary protein supplies amino acids, work as building blocks of muscle and other body tissues. Assessing the amount of fat that your horse is carrying will give you a good indication of how well its calorie requirements are being met.

Evaluating the top line and musculature gives an indication of the protein content of your horses diet. Getting too little protein or of insufficient quality, can mean that body and body tissues remain underdeveloped which would compromise your horse. Genetics dictate the numbers and types of muscle fibers in the body, just like in people, one can be more rounded, another muscular, one leaner, for example. We cannot change the horse’s genetic make-up, but we can through diet help optimize what genetics provide.

Below you find the body condition scoring for Icelandic horses. It is based on the degree of fat cover which is believed to be a good indicator of a horse’s general health.

Poor body condition (1,0): All ribs are visible; the skin is tight on the bones and no fat is found. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, tuber coxae and ischii projecting prominently. Bone structure of withers, shoulders and neck easily noticeable. The horse hangs its head and shows little reaction to external stimuli. Very serious malnutrition.

Very thin body condition (1,5): Most ribs are visible Emaciated. Slight fat covering over base of the spinous processes, transverse processes of lumbar (loin area) vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes, ribs, tail head, hooks, and pins are prominent. Withers, shoulders, and neck structures are faintly discernible.

Thin body condition (2,0): Fat is built up about halfway on spinous processes, transverse processes cannot be felt. Slight fat cover over ribs. Spinous processes and ribs are easily discernible. Tail head is prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. Hook bones appear rounded but are easily discernible. Pin bones are not distinguishable. Withers, shoulders and neck are accentuated.

Moderately Thin body condition (2,5): Negative crease along back. Faint outline of ribs discernible. Tailhead prominence depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it. Tuber coxae not discernible. Withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.

Moderate body condition (3,0): Back level. Ribs cannot be visually distinguished but can be easily felt. Fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy. Withers appear rounded over spinous processes. Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

Moderate fleshy body condition (3,5): May have slight crease down back. Fat over ribs feels spongy. Fat around tailhead feels soft. Fat beginning to be deposited along the side of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck.

Fleshy body condition (4,0): May have crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat. Fat around tailhead is soft. Fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along neck.

Fat body condition (4,5): 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 thigh.

Obese body condition (5,0): 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 rub together. Flank filled with fat.

As a general guidance then we are of the following opinion:

  • A riding horse should generally be somewhere between 2,5 and 3,5
  • A breeding mare should be between 3 and 4 and never above 4
  • A stallion is generally kept between 3 and 3,5

Sources: Matvælastofnun & Henneke et al.