As you begin dusting off your tack and preparing for your first spring ride, don’t forget to assess how your horse weathered this long winter season.
Finding your horse’s Body Condition Score (BCS) is one of the most important steps you can take as you move out of winter, according to John Harris, DVM, of the Deer Park Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Harris recommends knowing and using the Henneke Body Condition Score Chart (available in PDF format online at DPGazette.com/horsebcs).
The BCS ranks horses on a 9-point scale, using simple visual and hands-on checks of fat accumulation points on the horse’s body. Carefully checking over the horse’s neck, withers, back, loin, croup, and ribs can give you and your veterinarian insight into your horse’s overall health. A score between 5-7 is considered ideal for most horses, but it will vary based on the horse’s age and activity level. Coming out of winter either above or below the recommended scoring on the scale can lead to major health problems, especially with feeding regimens changing due to spring growth. Scoring too low indicates that the horse was unable to maintain its weight over the winter months, and needs to be examined by a veterinarian.
As spring arrives, Dr. Harris cautions that horses should not be given 24/7 access to new and actively growing pasture grasses, because this can put their health at risk. This is especially important if the horse gained weight during winter and has an elevated BCS. Complications like Laminitis/Founders and metabolic syndrome, can appear as a mild sore hoof, but could lead to lameness or be potentially deadly if not treated properly. “New grass growth is high in sugar content which can lead to hormonal changes in horses, similar to diabetes in humans.”
In fact, as the snow begins to melt, Dr. Harris recommends easing horses into pasture by giving them access to the high sugar grasses only a few hours each day, slowly lengthening pasture time as the grasses become established. “By July, the sugar content is lower, and it remains there until early fall rains bring back new green growth”; thus, finding the correct balance between all food sources including oats, hay, alfalfa, and pasture is key.
Familiarizing oneself with the BCS chart, and working closely with a veterinarian to correct any imbalances can assist in creating an efficient feeding plan. In fact, the BCS is an important guide for any livestock or household pets of all ages. Keeping track of their score, and communicating any changes with your veterinarian will help ensure a long and happy life with plenty of spring trail rides.
1) DVM Harris, John. Phone Interview. March, 03, 2018
2) Kentucky Equine Research. Body Condition Score Chart. November 11, 2011, DPGazette.com/horsebcs Accessed March 3, 2018