We recently detailed the Henneke body condition scoring system, a method of determining your horse's soundness. This 9-point grading scale helps you consistently measure fat loss and accumulation so you can keep your horse at a healthy weight. This past May, however, a group of British researchers developed a new system that reveals more insight into equine health than Henneke alone.
According to TheHorse.com, the researchers believed that, with metabolic disorders like insulin resistance and equine obesity becoming more prevalent, Henneke by itself was not effective in rating fat accumulation. The issue, they theorized, was that the commonly used system didn't properly account for internal stores of adipose tissue. A horse could receive a Henneke score of 5 – the right mix of leanness and fat – but have fat tissue accumulated around the stomach, heart or intestines that led to health problems later on. These reserves could only be discovered during an autopsy.
"This tool is essential only because information about internal (fat) reserves – specifically omental and mesenteric adipose tissues – cannot be obtained in living horses," said Caroline Argo, head of the University of Surrey's Department for Veterinary Clinical Sciences, to TheHorse.com. "Because these depots are only visible at surgery or post-mortem, it is the only mechanism we have to collect information about the size of these depots and its relationship with health and disease."
In addition, they realized that, while Henneke was acceptable for scoring thin and healthy horses, it failed to successfully differentiate various levels of obesity. Observers could tell a horse was overweight, but they couldn't accurately predict how much additional body fat the animal had.
The EQUIFAT system
"The researchers developed a 5-point scoring system to measure fat accumulation."
To solve these problems, the researchers developed a 5-point scoring system, where 1 indicated little or no fat visible and 5 meant severe accumulation. They took post-mortem images from 38 horses of varying weights, specifically focusing on fat deposits near the stomach, small intestine, heart, top of the neck and rump.
After creating the 5-point scale, researchers tested its repeatability by having 24 participants assess the images in accordance with the scoring system. Some of the participants were allowed to use half numbers, which proved more successful that using whole ones.
Of course, the conductors of the study realized veterinarians and horse owners couldn't rely on the EQUIFAT system as is to determine the internal fatness of a still-living horse. Through further testing, they were able to relate these scores to those of the Henneke system. In particular, they noted the presence of fat in the abdominal region was particularly close to the equivalent score on the Henneke rating.
Keeping horses lean and healthy
The EQUIFAT system is still new and has yet to reach widespread use. In the mean time, horse owners need a method of keeping animals fit. A proper diet and exercise regiment will help keep your horse at a healthy weight. In addition, equine supplements can assist with any nutritional deficiencies that can affect weight gain. For horses without such issues, use Finish Line's Stretch Run Plus to support a healthy metabolism and help the muscles properly utilize energy.