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Understanding the Henneke body condition scoring system

The Henneke system is a universal way to evaluate your horse's health.

The Henneke system is a universal way to evaluate your horse's health.

 

The Henneke body condition scoring system is one of the easiest ways to get an idea of your horse’s health. Depending on what score your horse earns, you may need to adjust its feed, exercise routine or medication.

The nine-point system was developed by Don Henneke as part of his doctoral research in 1983. It evaluates six areas on a horse where body fat tends to accumulate, rating them from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat). When horses gain weight, fat first collects behind the shoulder, then the ribs, rump, back, neck and finally at the head. Thus, the Henneke system looks at the following areas:

  • Neck.
  • Withers.
  • Shoulder.
  • Ribs.
  • Loin.
  • Tailhead.

“Horses must be touched for a truly accurate examination.”

Scoring your horse

A visual examination is part of determining a horse’s score, but the animal must be touched for a truly accurate examination. To check your horse’s condition, use your hand to apply pressure to each of the six areas mentioned above. This pressure should be firm but gentle, as though you’re giving your horse a massage, noted Habitat for Horses

After a thorough evaluation, horses are given an aggregate score that corresponds to one of the numbers below:

  1. Poor. Horses are extremely emaciated.Their bone structure is exceptionally prominent, especially along the spine, ribs and pelvis.
  2. Very thin. Horses are emaciated, though not as much as those in poor condition. A thin layer of fat can be felt over the spine, and the skeletal structure is still visible.
  3. Thin. While these horses are still too thin to be considered healthy, their skeletal system isn’t as prominent as a very thin horse. The tailhead is still prominent, but the individual vertebrae are no longer visible.
  4. Moderately thin. These horses have a ridge along their back indicating fat accumulation along the side of the spine. Their ribs are slightly visible, but they are otherwise not thin in any obvious manner.
  5. Moderate. This score is ideal for a healthy horse. There is just enough fat covering the ribs so they are not visible but can still be easily felt. The horse’s back is level, and its neck and shoulders blend smoothly into the rest of the body.
  6. Moderate to fleshy. Fat is starting to accumulate behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck and withers. Horses may or may not have a crease down the back.
  7. Fleshy. More fat has accumulated in these horses. They may or may not have a crease down their back, and their ribs can still be felt. However, there is a significant amount of fat in the spaces between the ribs.
  8. Fat. These horses have thick necks and creases down their backs. Fat accumulates along the inner buttocks, withers and around the tailhead.
  9. Extremely fat. The back has an obvious crease and fat appears over the ridge in patches. These equines have severe fat accumulation behind the shoulders, along the neck, around the tailhead, along the withers and over the inner buttocks.

To help your horse maintain a healthy weight, add high quality horse products and supplements to its diet. Choose Finish Line’s Total Control Plus for multisystem health or Ultra Fire as a daily multivitamin.

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