Friday, February 5, 2010

The Basics of Horse Nutrition: Evaluating Body Condition

Every horse owner should know how to gauge the condition of their horse and therefore determine if the horse is eating enough. I look at slightly different areas of the horse than some people do. I considering the age of the horse where a sway in the back and the backbone become more evident as this is normal. Roy, the horse in the picture above, is an old roping horse who is coming twenty seven years old in 2010 and is showing signs of age with a little sway in his back.

Where I look is the areas named in the picture of Roy. The sides of the Withers should not be completely boney – they should have some muscle blending into the shoulder; the Shoulder should be fairly muscular as the horse keeps most of their weight on their front end building those muscles. There should be some muscle on both sides along the length of his back – this helps somewhat protect the backbone from ill fitting saddles; the ribs (or barrel) should be meaty – don’t be alarmed if you can see feel or even see the ribs, but if the ribs are highly visible then chances are the horse is underweight; the butt on both sides of the tail head should be meaty – on some horses this is where they initially lose a lot of weight when under feed.

Some horsemen like to also use the sides of the neck (under the mane) to help determine body condition.

The recognized and accepted body condition scoring system goes like this, given consideration for the various types of conformity differences between breeds of horses:

One (Poor)- Horse is extremely emaciated (looks like a horse version of German WWII POW camp prisoner); ribs, tail head and backbone all visible. No fatty tissue can be seen or felt.

Two (Very Thin)– Horse is extremely underfed; boney areas prominent.

Three (Thin)- Some fat buildup on back; slight fat over ribs; hips apparent but appear rounded with presence of some fat and muscle.

Four (Moderately Thin)- Ribs can be seen however faintly; hip bones not apparent; butt may be scalloped (dished) but muscle and/or fat is present.

Five (Moderate)- Back is flat with no protruding backbone ridge, however age of the horse with a more readily appearing backbone may give the impression that the horse is in less condition, so consider other body parts in an overall judgement; fat around butt and butt is well rounded.

Six (Moderately Fleshy)- Fat over ribs, cannot see ribs; fat apparent on sides of withers, on shoulders and even on the neck.

Seven (Fleshy)- sometimes I call this getting “fat”; more fat on withers, shoulders, neck and butt; fat around tail head; prominent barrel giving a “peanut” profile look.

Eight (Fat)- fat apparent on legs below butt; withers very full; shoulders seemingly beginning to run or meld into the ribs (barrel); neck fat very apparent.

Nine (Extremely Fat)- Fat is bulging at all points; upper back legs may rub due to excessive fat in legs; you’ll know it when you see it.

Roy, the horse in the picture above, given consideration to his age, is what I would score as Body Condition Five – Moderate. I like to keep my horses in Condition Five, but I have to admit most of them would be judged to be Condition Six (Moderately Fleshy). Ruling out medical problems, it is an obviously problem of under feeding or bad care if your horses are in Condition One or Two. You are also not doing your horses any favors by letting them get to Condition Six and risking their health by going to Condition Seven, Eight or Nine.

No comments:

Post a Comment