Weighing your horse is a useful monitoring tool but it doesn’t distinguish between muscle and fat. Also, horses are individuals and carry fat in different places.
Fat scoring (also known as body condition scoring) is a tool you can use to assess your horse’s overall fat covering to determine whether they’re a healthy weight. Fat will feel spongy whereas muscle is firmer. However, dangerous crest fat can start to feel hard and become difficult to move from side to side.
Step One - Neck and shoulders
Look at whether you can see the shape of the neck muscles. Feel along the crest and notice if there is thickened, hard fat and if you can wobble it from side to side.
The Cresty Neck Score is an additional fat scoring system.
Run your hand down the neck onto the shoulder. Fat can accumulate in front of their shoulder blades, which will tend to cause your hand to move smoothly over the neck onto the shoulder, instead of your hand being stopped by the shoulder blade. Ideally, the shoulder blade should be clearly defined. You may also feel fat pads behind the shoulder blades too.
Step Two - Middle
Run your hand over the ribs; ideally you should be able to feel them fairly easily with light pressure. If you have to press firmly or can’t feel them at all then your horse is carrying excess fat.
Place your hand over their back and note whether you can see and feel the spine. Ideally your hand should follow the arch over the spine and be able to feel the backbone. Fat can build up on either side of the spine until it reaches a point of being higher than the spine and creating a gutter; this will often result in your hand lying flat across their back. If your horse’s spine is very visible and very easy to feel, this indicates a lack of fat covering this area.
Step Three - Hindquarters
Run your hand over their hip bones, you should be able to see them and feel them easily under a thin layer of fat. If you have to press firmly or can’t feel them at all then your horse is carrying excess fat. If they are prominently ‘sticking out’ and very easy to feel the horse is likely to be underweight.
Safely look at your horse from behind; ideally their hindquarters should be slightly rounded – like the letter C. An ‘apple’ shape and a gutter along the backbone would indicate too much fat. Feel for fatty areas around the tail head.