Understanding a horse’s body composition: the Henneke Scale

Horses, like humans, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. We have selectively bred them for thousands of years to suit our needs as workhorses and athletic partners.  That said, there are standards for a horses’s weight that help us to see their condition.  The standard method of estimating body condition is the Henneke Scale.

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The Henneke Scoring System is a scientific method of evaluating body condition regardless of breed, body type, sex or age. It is widely used by law enforcement agencies as an objective method of scoring a horse’s body condition in cruelty cases. It may be useful to know that the chart is accepted in a court of law. It was developed by Don Henneke, PhD, during his graduate studies at Texas A&M, and it utilizes both visual appraisal and palpable fat as methods for standardizing the scoring.

To evaluate a horses body condition, the scale refers to six parts of the horse: the neck, withers, shoulder, ribs, loin, and tailhead. To truly evaluate the horse’s condition you must apply pressure, using your hands, to each of these parts of the horse’s body.

The chart rates the horses on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 1 is considered poor or emaciated with no body fat. A 9 is extremely fat or obese. Veterinarians consider a body score of between 4 and 7 as acceptable, while a 5 is considered ideal.

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