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To know if the nutrition we are giving to the horse is correct, there is a tool known as Body Condition Score, which is very valuable since it allows us to evaluate if the ration we are providing to our horse is adequate, insufficient or excessive.
When performing physical work, the horse suffers physical wear and therefore requires higher levels of nutrients than a horse in maintenance; If the horse is not receiving the correct amount of nutrients, it will begin to consume its body reserves, that is, it will begin to lose weight, which will affect its performance, and conversely, if it is a horse that does not perform any physical activity and food is provided in large quantities or with high levels of nutrients, it will gain weight and it will present problems associated with obesity.
Because determining whether a horse is fat, skinny, losing weight, etc., based on visual observation, is most of the time a subjective assessment, since for some it may be a fat horse, while others will appreciate it as a horse in good condition, tools have been developed to get a more objective idea about it. One of these tools is weighing the horse periodically, but rarely is a special scale for horses available.
It is important to note that there are other methods that can help us in this situation. One of them is to estimate weight according to body measurements, since there is a relationship between the horse’s chest circumference and its weight, however this system has a margin of error which is sometimes considered very high. The other system that we can use is to determine the body condition of the horse based on a method developed in 1983 by Dr. Don Henneke of Texas A&M University, which consists of evaluating and assigning a score to the different reserves body fat that is accumulated in the body of the horse.
As mentioned above, the first method provides an approximation of the horse’s weight but does not account for small variations in body weight, in addition, there are situations in which it cannot be used as in females in the last gestation period. In such a way that the second method offers greater advantages by giving us a more exact approximation, since it indicates the amount of fat reserves that the horse has, which allows monitoring if the feeding that is being given to the horse is correct. If the horse receives more energy than it requires, its body will begin to store this excess energy as fatty tissue, increasing its body reserves and improving its body condition. In the opposite case, the horse will not be able to generate body reserves and there will be no changes in its body condition, making this method more sensitive.
Although the determination of the horse’s weight by means of a tape to weigh or to determine its body measurements offers some disadvantages, it is important to use both methods for the evaluation and formulation of the rations.
There are two mathematical formulas that can help us determine the weight of the horse if we do not have a tape to weigh, in which case we can use any tape measure, although the most recommended are the “tailor” type (those that are colored, yellow or blue) to take the body measurements of the horses. The formulas that can be used are:
Weight (Kg) = [(PT) 2 x L] ÷ 11000
PT is the thoracic perimeter at the height of the girth and L is the horse’s length measured in a line parallel to the ground from the point of the shoulder to the height of the tip of the ischium, in centimeters.
Weight (kg) = (PT x PT x PT) x 80
PT is the thoracic perimeter at the height of the girth expressed in meters.
This system gives the horse a rating that ranges from 1 to 9 according to the amount of fat stored in certain places in the body. The body condition of 1 is an emaciated horse, that is, in the bones, and the highest, 9, corresponds to an extremely obese horse.
The areas that must be inspected by palpation and visually to determine the body condition of the horse are the following:
Below is the description of the different body condition ratings as well as their description:
The optimal body condition will depend on the activity carried out by the horse, as well as the condition for a breeding mare with conditions less than a rating of 4, it has been determined that they have a delay of 3 or 4 weeks in the first ovulation in reproductive season compared to mares with body conditions of 5 or more, they also require more cycles to be pregnant and there is a higher proportion of losses at the beginning of gestation. Horses with very high body conditions have long-term problems, for example, obese horses have a predisposition to suffer endocrine problems, colic, laminits, etc. On the other hand, horses with sports activities will perform poorly in sports if they are in extreme body conditions.
In the case of mares in reproduction, it is recommended that they enter the reproductive season with a condition 6 or 7, since the nutritional demands at foaling and lactation are very high and can reduce their body condition. Stallions must have a similar body condition, since if their mare book is extensive, intensive use during the breeding season will lead them to lose weight.
For the horses that carry out some sporting activity, the body condition should be 4 to 5 if they practice a very strenuous exercise and 5 to 7 if the work is not very intense; a charro horse must have a body condition of 5 to 6. Remember that a horse with poor or little body fat reserves will not have enough energy and, on the contrary, a horse with large body fat reserves will be a less agile animal.
If we consider that our horse is not in the required body condition, we must make adjustments to its diet and exercise regime, and all these changes should be made gradually; You cannot pretend to change the body condition of a horse in a short period of time and it should be considered a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks to go from one body condition to another. The best option to improve body condition are energy supplements, which have high levels of fat, helping horses to improve this condition without risks to their gastrointestinal health.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, when you want to modify the body condition there are two major variables to consider, the diet and the activity of the horse. In horses with less activity it will be easier to gain body condition but it will lose physical condition, being the most appropriate in this case, to decrease the activity and increase it according to the improvement of the body condition, obviously together with the energy increase of the ration. If body condition is excessive, you should gradually increase the level of exercise or decrease the energy level of the ration.
It is important to keep in mind that any change in the ration must be progressively and respecting the horse’s physiological restrictions, such as: maximum concentrate consumption, minimum and maximum forage consumption.
Animals that are in extreme body conditions, and there is no obvious reason for them to be in that state, it is advisable to ask for a veterinarian’s review as there is probably an underlying pathology that led our horse to that condition.
What is sought when evaluating body condition is that the horse is in its best shape, with good muscular development, not very skinny or very obese. Body condition is visually assessed and must be supplemented by palpation of the different structures and regions in which body fat stores are deposited.