Fridays with Finn

An Equine Nutrition Blog

Equine Body Condition Score Misconceptions

By: Madeline Boast, MSc. Equine Nutrition

This week’s blog is a little bit different than normal. Instead of a broad nutrition topic, we are diving into a recent publication from the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, A survey: Horse show judges’ perceptions on equine adiposity. The objective of this study was to survey judges’ views on the level of adiposity in horses and ponies in various competition types as well as track their ability to distinguish different levels of adiposity. The judges that participated in this survey were from the United States Hunter Jumper Association, American Quarter Horse Association, and Equine Canada’s database. 

It was found that the majority of experienced equine competition judges were unable to correctly classify obese horses. Additionally, 91% of the judges classified a horse as “thin” when their body condition was in fact average. When competition judges cannot accurately assess adiposity or are more lenient to over conditioned horses versus underconditioned horses owners may not realize the severity of having an over conditioned horse

The authors also reported that the judges penalized a horse if they were too thin at a much higher rate than giving a similar penalty due to a horse being over conditioned. This is problematic since owners of obese horses likely do not realize the extent to which their horse is in a negative welfare state, additionally the professionals they seek feedback from are not acknowledging this poor welfare. 

Overall, publications like this one do a great job at highlighting the issue of equine obesity. There is great risk that over-conditioned animals are becoming the new normal and with experienced judges being unable to accurately decipher healthy body condition how can we expect horse owners to? 

Better education when it comes to body condition score is important so that both horse owners as well as industry professionals such as judges can accurately identify healthy body condition. Having a nutritionist out to your farm can also ensure you are getting an accurate body condition score. 

This illustration highlights the key body areas that are used for body condition scoring of horses. Adapted from Henneke 1981, Texas A&M. 

If you’re interested in reading more the citation discussed in this blog post can be found below: 

Munjizun, A., & Phillips, S. P. (2021). 86 A survey: Horse show judges’ perceptions on equine adiposity. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 100, 103549.


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