Equine Body Condition Scoring
What is Equine BCS?
Equine body condition scoring (BCS) is an appraisal of the overall nutritional status of horses and is a balance between feed intake and energy output. Factors that influence BCS include supplementation, pasture, internal parasite loads, age, teeth maintenance, and performance demands. This tool can be used on all breeds, and is a simple evaluation of fat and muscle deposited in key areas that are both observed and felt.
Figure 1. Areas of importance in Equine BCS.
How should you use BCS?
Each animal must be scored based on their own characteristics, considering frame size and excluding hair cover. The system is based on a scale of 1 to 9, 1 being emaciated and 9 being obese. As animal owners, it is important to remember that horses rely solely on your management to get the nutrition that they require, and this tool can help you either save money if your horses are too heavy or, more importantly, increase the quality of life and performance of your animals if they are too thin. An animal in the range of 4-6 is considered ideal. Horses under 4 are too thin and will require additional supplementation while horses over 6 may be too heavy.
If you evaluate the BCS of your horses and you find that some are too thin, the first thing to do is to rule out health problems, and your vet will be able to assist you with this. The second thing to do is to evaluate your feed program. Horses need to be fed by pounds, not scoops. Many feed companies offer online calculators to help horse owners more easily decipher how much supplement your horse should be getting based on body weight. If you have never had your horse weighed, there are tapes available or your local extension agent may be able to assist with a scale.
Animals depend on their owners to provide adequate feed, and sometimes owners simply do not know because they have never been taught. If you have any questions about your feed program, pasture management, or animal health, a veterinarian is a great place to start. Additionally, your local Livestock Agent can help and connect you with University professionals that specialize in Equine Science.