Condition scoring and weight estimation of horses

Body condition scoring is used extensively as an aid to management of sheep and cattle. Research in horses has shown that condition scoring provides a useful and objective method of monitoring body condition. Body condition (fatness) is the most reliable indicator of the suitability of a horse's diet.

How can I estimate my horse's weight?

Accurate estimation of a horse's bodyweight is an art that requires a lot of experience. Weight estimation is necessary for assessing feed requirements and for determining the correct dosage of worm treatments and other drugs.

Methods of estimation

  1. Assess visually and by feel, the horse's pelvis and rump, back and ribs and neck (table 1).
  2. Give those areas individual scores using a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (very fat).
  3. Intermediate assessments can be given half scores.
  4. Using the pelvic and rump assessment as the base, adjust that score by a half point if it differs by one or more points from the score for the neck or ribs.
  5. Height measurement should be performed on level ground when the horse is relaxed and standing squarely. Use the highest point of the withers as the measuring site. Allowance should be made for shoes.

Table 1. Body condition scoring system

ScoreNeck Back and ribsPelvis
0
Very poor
Marked ewe neck.
Narrow and slack at base.
Skin tight over ribs.
Spinous processes sharp and easily seen.
Angular pelvis - skin tight.
Deep cavity under tail and either side of croup.
1
Poor
Ewe neck.
Narrow and slack at base.
Ribs easily visible.
Skin sunken either side of
Backbone. Spinous processes well defined
Rump sunken, but skin supple.
Pelvis and croup well defined
Deep depression under tail.
2
Moderate
Narrow but firm Ribs just visible
Backbone well covered
Spinous processes felt
Rump flat either side of backbone.
Croup well defined, some fat.
Slight cavity under tail.
3
Good
No crest (except stallions)
Firm neck
Ribs just covered
No gutter along the back.
Spinous processes covered but can be felt
Covered by fat and rounded.
No gutter.
Pelvis easily felt
4
Fat
Slight crest Ribs well covered – need firm pressure to feel
Gutter along backbone.
Gutter to root of tail.
Pelvis covered by soft fat – felt only with firm pressure
5
Very fat
Marked crest
Very wide and firm.
Folds of fat.
Ribs buried - cannot feel.
Deep gutter
Back broad and flat.
Deep gutter to root of tail.
Skin distended.
Pelvis buried – cannot feel
0
Very poor
Horse in condition score: 0 very poor condition
  • Very sunken rump
  • Deep cavity under tail
  • Skin tight over bones
  • Very prominent backbone and pelvis
  • Marked ewe neck
1
Poor
Horse in condition score: 1 poor condition
  • Sunken rump
  • Cavity under tail
  • Ribs easily visible
  • Prominent backbone and croup
  • Ewe neck ‑ narrow and slack
2
Moderate
Horse in condition score: 2 moderate condition
  • Flat rump either side of backbone
  • Ribs just visible
  • Narrow but firm neck
  • Backbone well covered
3
Good
Horse in condition score: 3 good condition
  • Rounded rump
  • Ribs just covered but easily felt
  • No crest, firm neck
4
Fat
Horse in condition score: 4 fat condition
  • Rump well rounded
  • Gutter along back
  • Ribs and pelvis hard to feel
  • Slight crest
5
Very fat
Horse in condition score: 5 very fat condition
  • Very bulging rump
  • Deep gutter along back
  • Ribs buried
  • Marked crest
  • Fold and lumps of fat

Fig. 1 Condition scores

The horse's weight can then be predicted from the height (in hands) and condition score (table 2). More accurate estimation can be achieved by the use of a nomogram (figure 4).

Table 2. Prediction of weight (kg) utilising height and condition score

Condition scoreHeight (hands)
12H13H14H15H16H
1 190 240 310 390 420
2 210 285 330 420 470
3 250 345 395 460 505
4 300 370 460 535 570
5 360 460 540 610 670

1 hand = 10.2 cm (4 inches)

Allowing body condition to fall below a score of 2 is likely to compromise a horse's welfare.

During winter, a long heavy hair coat complicates visual appraisal. You need to run your hands over the horse to get an accurate score.

Poor body condition is not always due to lack of feed but could be related to parasite infestations, poor dental health, chronic injury or illness or lack of mobility affecting the horse's ability to forage.

Horse with prominent spine, pelvis and ribs, lack of muscling and tightness of skin over bones.Horse with marked ewe neck.

To estimate a horse's weight using condition score and height on a nomogram, a ruler is used to connect the appropriate values on the condition score and height scales, and the weight is read where it intersects the weight scale (Figure 4).

Nomogram for estimation of liveweight from condition score and height measurement

Alternatively a horse's estimated weight can be calculated from the girth and length (Figure 5), using a nomogram (Figure 6) or the below formula:

weight (kg) = girth (cm) x girth (cm) x length (cm) divided by 12000

Diagram of horse showing how to measure the horse's girth and the length

To estimate a horse's weight using height and length measurements on a nomogram, a ruler is used to connect the appropriate values on the girth and length scales, and the weight is read where it intersects the weight scale.

Nonogram that uses girth and length measurements to determine weight

Reference

Carroll,C.L. and Huntington, P.J. (1988) Body condition scoring and weight estimation of horses, Equine Veterinary Journal 20, 41-45.

Further information

Further information on horse ownership and management call our Customer Service Centre on 136 186.

Page last updated: 08 Jul 2021