The ~Texas~ Mustang Project's Blog

Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

Henneke Body Condition Scoring System, Refresher…

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on January 18, 2010


Developed in 1983 by Don Henneke, PhD, during his graduate study at Texas A & M University, the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System is based on both visual appraisal and palpable fat cover of the six major points of the horse that are most responsive to changes in body fat. You cannot make a determination of a horse’s body condition simply by looking at the horse from a distance except in the most extreme cases. The Henneke Chart is a standardized scoring system, whereas the terms, “skinny”, “thin”, “emaciated” or “fat” are all subjective terms that have different meanings to different people.

The Henneke Scoring System is a scientific method of evaluating a horse’s body condition regardless of breed, body type, sex or age. It is now widely used by law enforcement agencies as an objective method of scoring a horse’s body condition in horse cruelty cases. This chart is even accepted in a court of law.

Six parts of a horse are checked in this system—the neck, withers (where the neck ends and the back begins), shoulder, ribs, loin, and tailhead. When using the Henneke system, you should always make physical contact with these parts, and the kind of touch you use is important. Simply stroking the animal lightly won’t provide an accurate idea of the horse’s condition; you have to apply pressure to each part in turn.

(Warning: Some images are graphic.)

The pressure you apply should be much like that of a massage; if you press a horse’s side with your hand, you’ll be able to feel the fat covering his ribs, and get an idea of how much fat is present. Likewise, when checking the withers, feel all around the area, as if you were squeezing firm clay. It is possible to be firm and gentle at the same time, and both traits are necessary to properly score a horse.

After pressing each part of the horse with your hands to feel for body fat, you then assign each area of the body the numerical score that corresponds with the horse’s condition. When a horse has a winter coat it is imperative that you use your hands to feel the horse. The horse’s winter coat will hide the protrusion of bones, all except in the most extreme cases. The scores from each area are then totaled and divided by 6. The resulting number is the horse’s rating on the Henneke Body Scoring Condition Chart.

Conformational differences between horses may make certain criteria within each score difficult to apply to every animal. In these instances, those areas influenced by conformation should be discounted, but not ignored when determining the condition score.

Conformation also changes in pregnant mares as they approach parturition (birth). Since the weight of the conceptus tends to pull the skin and musculature tighter over the back and ribs, emphasis is placed upon fat deposition behind the shoulder, around the tailhead and along the neck and withers in these cases.

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.

Horse veterinarians consider a body score of between 4 and 7 as acceptable.

A score of 5 is considered ideal.

Score Description

1  Poor: Emaciated. Prominent spinous processes, ribs, tailhead and hooks and pins. Noticeable bone structure on withers, shoulders and neck. No fatty tissues can be palpated.

(I’m really not sure that I wouldn’t score at a 0.5, if there were such a score.)

2 Very Thin: Emaciated. Slight fat covering over base of spinous processes. Transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Prominent spinous processes, ribs, tailhead and hooks and pins. Withers, shoulders and neck structures faintly discernible.

3  Thin: Fat built up about halfway on spinous processes, transverse processes cannot be felt. Slight fat cover over ribs. Spinous processes and ribs easily discernible. Tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. Hook bones appear rounded, but easily discernible. Pin bones not distinguishable. Withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.

4 Moderately Thin: Negative crease along back. Faint outline of ribs discernible. Tailhead prominence depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it. Hook bones not discernible. Withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.

5  Moderate: Back is level. Ribs cannot be visually distinguished, but can be easily felt. Fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy. Withers appear rounded over spinous processes. Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

6  Moderate to Fleshy: May have slight crease down back. Fat over ribs feels spongy. Fat around tailhead feels soft. Fat beginning to be deposited along the sides of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck.

7  Fleshy: May have crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat. Fat around tailhead is soft. Fat deposits along withers, behind shoulders and along the neck.

8  Fat: Crease down back. Difficult to palpate ribs. Fat around tailhead very soft. Area along withers filled with fat. Area behind shoulder filled in flush. Noticeable thickening of neck. Fat deposited along inner buttocks.

9 Extremely Fat: Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appearing over ribs. Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. Flank filled in flush.

A Scientific Method For Judging A Horse’s Body Condition
CONDITION NECK WITHERS LOIN TAILHEAD RIBS SHOULDER
1
POOR
Bone structure easily noticeable Bone structure easily noticeable Spinous processes project prominently  Tailhead, (pinbones) & hook bones projecting prominently  Ribs projecting prominently Bone structure easily noticeable
Animal extremely emaciated; no fatty tissue can be felt

VERY THIN
 Faintly discernible  Faintly discernible  Slight fat covering overbase of spinous processes. Tran-
verse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes are prominent.
 Tailhead prominent  Ribs prominent Faintly discernible
Animal  Emaciated
3
THIN
 Neck accentuated  Withers accentuated Fat buildup halfway on spinous processes, but easily discernible. Transverse processes cannot be felt. Tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. Hook bones appear rounded, but are still easily discernible. Pin bones not distinguishable.   Slight fat cover over ribs. Ribs easily discernible. Shoulder accentuated 
4
MODERATELY THIN
 Neck not obviously thin  Withers not obviously thin  Negative creases along back  Prominence depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it. Hook bones not discernible. Slight fat cover over ribs. Ribs easily discernible. Shoulder accentuated 
5
MODERATE
Neck blends smoothly into body Withers rounded over spinous processes  Back level  Fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy Ribs cannot be visually distinguished, but can be easily felt. Shoulder blends smoothly into body 
6
MODERATELY 
FLESHY
Fat beginning to be deposited  Fat beginning to be deposited  May have slight positive crease down back Fat around tailhead feels soft Fat over ribs feels spongy  Fat beginning to be deposited 
7
FLESHY
 Fat deposited along neck Fat deposited along withers  May have positive crease down back Fat around tailhead is soft. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat   Fat deposited behind shoulder
8
FAT
 Noticeable thickening of neck  Area along withers filed with fat Positive crease down back  Tailhead fat very soft  Difficult to feel ribs  Area behind shoulder filled in flush with body
Fat deposited along inner buttocks.
9
EXTREMELY FAT
 Bulging fat Bulging fat Obvious positive crease down back  Bulging fat around tailhead  Patchy fat appearing over ribs  Bulging fat
Extremely Fat    -   Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. Flank filled in flush.

2 Responses to “Henneke Body Condition Scoring System, Refresher…”

  1. reveil39 said

    Do you also have pictures for numbers 7, 8 and 9?

    • tracielynnthompson@yahoo.com said

      I tried to get them to upload when I was doing the post but was unable to get them in correctly… All pixelated & whatnot. Resolving that issue this evening & will post *hopefully* before the end of the day. Sooooo sorry! :o)
      *T*

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