One of the biggest challenges many horse owners face during the summer months is keeping their horse’s weight under control. In fact, the number of overweight horses and ponies in the UK is rising which may affect our perception of what constitutes an ‘ideal’ or ‘healthy’ condition.
Body Condition Scoring is a practical method of assessing the horse or pony’s fat covering using a numerical grading system and in many respects, is more useful than knowing their actual weight.
For leisure horses, a score of 5 out of 9 (described as ‘moderate’) is considered ‘ideal’. A ‘perfect 5’ can be defined as:
- The neck blends smoothly into the body (no crest)
- Shoulder blends smoothly into the body (no fat pads behind the shoulder)
- Withers rounded
- The back is level (not fat pads behind the saddle area, no ‘gully’ along the back)
- Ribs can be easily felt but not seen
- Fat around the tailhead beginning to feel spongy
However it is important to take both the horse’s breed and the natural cycle of seasonal weight loss and gain into consideration. For example, on a thoroughbred horse you can often see a faint outline of the last two ribs (particularly when they turn), even when they are at an ‘optimum weight’ or in ‘ideal condition’.
Ponies and other native breeds have evolved to gain weight in spring and summer and lose it again over the winter, ready for the return of better grazing in the following spring. Allowing good doers to ‘slim down’ over winter months as nature intended can therefore help to prevent excess weight gain once the spring grass arrives.
Provided your horse or pony is otherwise fit and healthy, seeing his ribs is not automatically a cause for concern, even for natives! Rather focusing purely on your horse’s ribs, monitor his body condition score regularly and remember that hoof and coat condition, soundness, clear nostrils and a bright eye are all external indicators of good health.
Like people, horses come in different shapes and sizes and maintaining the ‘perfect figure’ is not always easy! If you have any questions about your horse’s body condition or diet please contact the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626