The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System

Don Henneke, PhD, developed the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System during his graduate study at Texas A & M University . It is based on both visual appraisal and palpable fat cover of the six major points of the horse that are most responsive to changes in body fat. The Henneke Chart is a standardized scoring system, whereas the terms, “skinny”, “thin”, “emaciated” or “fat” are all subjective terms that have different meanings to different people.

The Henneke Scoring System is a scientific method of evaluating a horse’s body condition regardless of breed, body type, sex or age. It is now widely used by law enforcement agencies as an objective method of scoring a horse’s body condition in horse cruelty cases. The Chart is accepted in a court of law.

Six parts of a horse are checked in this system—the neck, withers (where the neck ends and the back begins), shoulder, ribs, loin, and tailhead. When using the Henneke system, you should always make physical contact with these parts, and the kind of touch you use is important. Simply stroking the animal lightly won’t provide an accurate idea of the horse’s condition; you have to apply pressure to each part in turn.

The pressure you apply should be much like that of a massage; if you press a horse’s side with your hand, you’ll be able to feel the fat covering his ribs, and get an idea of how much fat is present. Likewise, when checking the withers, feel all around the area, as if you were squeezing firm clay. It is possible to be firm and gentle at the same time, and both traits are necessary to properly score a horse.

After pressing each part of the horse with your hands to feel for body fat. You then assign each area of the body the numerical score that corresponds with the horse’s condition. When a horse has a long haircoat it is imperative that you use your hands to feel the horse. The horse’s long haircoat will hide the protrusion of bones, all except in the most extreme cases. The scores from each area are then totaled and divided by 6. The resulting number is the horse’s rating on the Henneke Body Scoring Condition Chart.

Conformational differences between horses may make certain criteria within each score difficult to apply to every animal. In these instances, those areas influenced by conformation should be discounted, but not ignored when determining the condition score.

Conformation also changes in pregnant mares as they approach parturition (birth). Since the weight of the conceptus tends to pull the skin and musculature tighter over the back and ribs, emphasis is placed upon fat deposition behind the shoulder, around the tailhead and along the neck and withers in these cases.

The Chart rates the horses on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 1 is considered poor or emaciated with no body fat. A 9 is extremely fat or obese. Horse veterinarians consider a body score of between 4 and 7 as acceptable. A 5 is considered ideal.


Marco = 1


Maggie = 2


Blue = 5


Sand Dollar = 6


Jasper = 9

Condition Neck Withers Shoulder Ribs Loin Tailhead
Bone structure easily noticeable Bone structure easily noticeable Bone structure easily noticeable Ribs protruding prominently Spinous processes projecting prominently Tailhead, pinbones, and hook bones projecting prominently
Very Thin
Bone structure faintly discernible Bone structure faintly discernible Bone structure faintly discernible Ribs prominent Slight fat covering over base of spinous processes. Transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes are prominent Tailhead prominent
Neck accentuated Withers accentuated Shoulder accentuated Slight fat over ribs. Ribs easily discernible Fat buildup halfway on spinous processes, but easily discernible. Traverse processes cannot be felt Tailhead prominent but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. Hook bones appear rounded, but are still easily discernible. Pin bones not distinguishable
Moderately Thin
Neck not obviously thin Withers not obviously thin Shoulder not obviously thin Faint outline of ribs discernible Negative crease (peaked appearance) along back Prominence depends on conformation. Fat can be felt. Hook bones not discernible
Moderate (Ideal Weight)
Neck blends smoothly into body Withers rounded over spinous processes Shoulder blends smoothly into body Ribs cannot be visually distinguished, but can be easily felt Back is level Fat around tailhead beginning to feel soft
Moderately Fleshy
Fat beginning to be deposited Fat beginning to be deposited Fat beginning to be deposited Fat over ribs feels spongy May have a slight positive crease (a groove) down back Fat around tailhead feels soft
Fat deposited along neck Fat deposited along withers Fat deposited behind shoulder Individual ribs can be felt with pressure, but noticeable fat filling between ribs May have a positive crease down the back Fat around tailhead is soft
Noticeable thickening of neck Area along withers filled with fat Area behind shoulder filled in flush with body Difficult to feel ribs Positive crease down the back Fat around tailhead very soft
Extremely Fat
Bulging fat Bulging fat Bulging fat Patchy fat appearing over ribs Obvious crease down the back Bulging fat around tailhead