Regularly assessing your horse’s weight is an important part of keeping him healthy.
It’s good practice to carry out an assessment every two weeks or so, then log your findings so you can track any changes. Having an idea of what your horse weighs is also helpful when it comes to knowing how much to feed him or working out dosages for medication and supplements.
While a weigh bridge is the most accurate method of weighing your horse, not all of us are lucky enough to have free access to one. However, there are some simple methods you can employ to monitor condition.
A weigh tape is a great indicator of bodyweight, so regularly using one can help you to quickly spot any changes in your horse’s condition or track your progress if he’s on a weight loss diet.
Stand your horse up square on a firm, level surface with his weight evenly distributed across all four feet. The tape should be positioned around his middle on a slight angle, so it runs from behind his withers to behind his elbows – it should be smooth and snug, but not tight. As he breathes out, line up the arrow at one end of the tape with the weight markings at the other end and take your reading.
Your horse’s weight will naturally fluctuate to a small degree throughout the day, so try to take your readings at a similar time to get the most accurate indication of bodyweight.
Condition scoring (also known as fat scoring is an accurate way to assess your horse’s body fat covering – far more reliable than using your eyes alone. It requires you to get hands on – literally – as you feel key areas of your horse’s body to check for areas of fat build-up. Condition is usually measured on a 0–5 scale and most leisure horses should aim to have an overall score of three.
Download an online condition score chart and stand your horse up square on a firm, level surface. Divide his body into three zones – neck/shoulders, back/ribcage and hindquarters – and use your eyes and hands to look and feel for areas of fat, using the images and descriptions on the chart as a reference.
Remember that fat will feel soft and spongy, while muscle will be firm.
Feel along the top of your horse’s neck – it should be firm, without a crest or wobble (unless he’s a stallion), or any thickening in the middle.
Run your hand down the side of his neck – your progress should be slowed by the curve of his shoulder. If fat has built up in front of the shoulder blade, your hand will run onto his shoulder with ease.
Feel for fatty deposits behind his shoulder blade and in the supra orbital fossa area above his eye.
Using your condition score chart, give your horse’s neck and shoulder a score out of five.
Lay your hand over your horse’s back – your hand should arch over his spine in a smooth curve and you should be able to feel the spinous processes of his spine if you run your hand down towards his pelvis. A build-up of fat will mean that your hand sits more flat and you may notice a gutter forming along his spine.
Run your hand diagonally across your horse’s ribs, from near the top of his shoulder blade towards his flank, using a firm pressure – his ribs should be covered, but easily felt
It’s important to keep in mind that horse’s don’t store much fat in their underbelly, so you won’t need to check this area as part of your assessment.
Using your condition score chart, give your horse’s back and ribcage a score out of five.
From a safe position, run your hands over your horse’s pelvis – his hipbones should be well-covered, but still easily felt.
Feel along his croup and the top of his tail – this area should be a smooth curve with definition across the croup. An apple- or M-shaped bottom is usually caused by fatty deposits on either side of the spine.
Using your condition score chart, give your horse’s hindquarters a score out of five.
Once you have your three scores, add them up and divide the total by three so that you get an average overall score.
It’s easy to be subjective when you’re condition scoring your own horse, so it’s a good idea to ask a friend to assess him, too, then compare your scores to see whether you agree.