Body Condition

How much we feed our horses is determined by how much they weigh, their overall body condition, and the condition we want them to be.

Measure your horses body weight by measuring his heart/girth area and his length. Be sure you measure from the same spot each time to get an accurate reading. Your horses weight will equal his heart-girth times his heart-girth times his length divided by 330.

Heart-girth X heart-girth X length / 330 = Weight

Heart/Girth and Length

Heart/Girth and Length

While important in determining your horse’s overall nutrient requirements, knowing how much your horse weighs still doesn’t tell you if it is too fat, too thin, or in good overall condition with respect to fat coverage.

Since the 1980s, veterinarians and horse owners alike have been using the Henneke Body Condition Scoring (BCS) system to estimate fat coverage of horses. This system uses a scale of 1 through 9, determining body weight and ideal condition where 1 represents an extremely emaciated horse and 9 represents a grossly obese one. Areas of the body that are examined include the shoulder and elbow region, the ribs, the withers, the loin and tailhead region, and the crest of the neck.

Body Condition Scores

General Description Neck Area Withers Shoulder Elbow Ribs Loin and Tailhead
1 Poor No fatty tissue felt; bone structure obvious Very prominent Scapula prominent No fleshy tissue Ribs obvious Spine and hip bones prominent
2 Very thin Prominent bonestructure Prominent Prominent Minimal fleshy tissue Ribs clearly visible Spine and hip bones visible
3 Thin Lean Lean Obvious Little Fleshy tissue Outline of ribs visible Moderate visibility of hip bones
4 Moderately Thin Some fleshy cover Some cover Moderate blend into body Some fleshy tissue Faint outline of ribs Faint outline of hip bones
5 Moderate Moderate fleshy cover Moderate tissue cover Blends into body Moderate tissue Not visible but easily felt Back level, tailhead fleshy
6 Moderately fleshy Fleshy cover Fleshy cover Well-blended into body Extra fleshy tissue Spongy cover over ribs Soft tailhead
7 Fleshy Fat deposited along neck Fat deposited along withers Not obvious Obvious fleshy tissue Ribs felt with pressure Soft tailhead; ridge beginning to appear
8 Fat Obvious fat on neck Not obvious due to fat coverage Faint scapula Fat Barely felt with pressure SCrease down back
9 Extremely fat Obvious fat and potentially cresty neck Bulging fat; withers indiscernible Bulging fat; scapula not visible Bulging fat Difficult to feel ribs due to excessive fat cover Crease down back due to bulging fat on either side of spine


The scale is useful because it is easy to learn, but there are several drawbacks. For instance, it is very subjective; one horse owner might label a horse a 3 while another might label it a 2 or 2.5. This discrepancy generally isn’t an issue unless different people are keeping records. For example, if it wasn’t known that different people were scoring the horses, one might assume a horse has suddenly lost or gained weight. It is also difficult to use the scale when tracking a horse over time to observe small changes in body condition score. In this case, careful record keeping and photos can be helpful to monitor body condition score changes with dietary management.

Another problem with the Henneke system is that not all horses follow the chart smoothly. For example, some horses may carry more weight around their ribs but won’t have much coverage along the hind end. Therefore, it is possible for a horse to be a 6 at the ribs but only a 4.5 or 5 in another region. In these kinds of situations, owners and clinicians must average the entire body’s scores to obtain the horse’s true overall score.

So what is the ideal body score in horses? At this point, veterinarians and nutritionists aren’t certain. Most horse owners, veterinarians, and nutritionists agree that, in general, a leaner animal is healthier (within reason). In this sense, a horse with a body condition of 5 is generally considered to be in good condition. However, in some cases a leaner or fatter condition may be desired, as described below.

Determining an ideal weight for a horse is difficult, in part due to vast breed differences affecting bone and musculature. Muscle accounts for more than 50% of body weight in most athletic horses (and is usually still around 45% in non-athletic horses), compared to 30% to 40% in other species. As in humans, muscle weighs more than fat; therefore, a muscled horse will weigh more than a fat one for a given height and body type. Thus, it is difficult to make claims such as a 16-hand horse should weigh 1200 lbs. In reality, based on breed differences a 16-hand horse may weigh anywhere between 1000 lbs and 1800 lbs. This is another reason why body condition scores are useful.

In some cases it might be wise for a horse to have a slightly higher body condition score. The original work by Henneke studied reproductive efficiency in mares and found that mares with more condition (higher BCS) had higher conception rates than their leaner counterparts. So, it may be wise to keep a broodmare at a slightly higher condition (for example, around a BCS of 6), though keeping any horse at a body condition score greater than 7 may increase the risk of metabolic issues. It may also be recommended that older horses be kept in higher condition (BCS 6). As the ability to maintain weight during disease or times of stress becomes increasingly difficult with increasing age, having a bit of a “buffer” in body weight could be beneficial. However, the overall health of the animal should be taken into consideration, as an older horse with arthritis or a history of laminitis may do better without the excess weight.

Horse owners should work with their veterinarians and trainers to determine the ideal body condition for their horse and discipline, as serious consequences can result when a horse is too thin or too fat.


Hope this helps you understand the horses weight, condition and why it’s important to feed quality food to our equine partners.



Kate with OCHS








Ranch Update ~ May 2014

Why hello everyone!

We are excited to announce the new arrivals, Crystal and April, to the OCHS ranch! They are registered Nigerian Dwarf goats.  They arrived on Saturday, May 3rd. Crystal is a lovely 4 year old Sundgau (fancy goat color pattern name for black, brown, and white) doe. April is a super sweet 2 yr old red buckskin doe. Crystal can be a little shy at first, but with animal crackers in hand, she is the first to meet you, and will headbutt April out of the way for more crackers! April loves a good scratch behind her little horns. They are adjusting well to their new home with a teeter-totter, dwarf size goat hut just right for them, and they will soon to have other fun climbing toys. April is already known for being the jumper, as she likes to get on the roof of the goat hut when the horses come by to check them out. I think she just wants to feel as tall as a horse. Crystal isn’t quite agile enough to jump very high. This is great because she would be the first to escape, no doubt!

Why did I decide to get goats? Well, I have been researching goat breeds for quite some time. I had it narrowed down to two breeds, the Nigerian Dwarf and the Miniature Myotonic (Tennessee Fainting) Goats. I became fond of the Nigerian for their small size and ability to produce milk. I became fond of the Fainter’s for how stinkin’ adorable and funny they are. Both breeds are known to be great family pets, which is another reason I became so fond of the little hooved creatures. They are so much fun to have around already. I can’t wait for everyone to meet “The Girls”. Below are some adorable pictures from their adventures so far. Enjoy!


April and Crystal chillin'

April and Crystal chillin’





Perfect balance, April!

Perfect balance, April!

Goats and Horses!

Goats and Horses!

April, queen of the hut

April, queen of the hut

April is wondering why I am peeking into their hut to get a picture

April is wondering why I am peeking into their hut to get a picture. Crystal is thinking, get out, please!


Happy Ranching,

Kate Thomas with OCHS

Q & A for Hauling Horses

Question: How should you tie a horse in the trailer?

Answer: With a quick release halter or knot. Use a nylon or leather halter for tying a horse in the trailer, not a rope halter. A rope halter can get caught on things too easily and it is so thin, if it does get stuck, it can seriously injure the horse. If you use a nylon halter, make sure you tie the rope in a knot that will come loose easily in an emergency; or use a quick release halter; or a lead rope with a quick release snap. Also, make sure to tie the rope short enough so that the horse cannot step over the rope.

Please note, if the horse does not know how to give to halter pressure, do not tie this horse. Please see hauling an untrained/wild below.

Question: Is it safe to leave a horse loose in the trailer?

Answer: No, I do not think it is very safe to leave a horse loose in a trailer, especially in a two horse trailer. A large horse can get to walking in circles and cause the trailer to move too much. An untied horse can fall or injure himself much easier if he is not restricted.  Horses may also try to nip or bite each other which can lead to a multitude of problems. Ponies and mini’s under 500lbs are okay for short distances without being tied as long as there are no dividers in the trailer. However, I still recommend tying them. A horse or pony that is tied will not be able to move about the trailer.

Please note, if the horse does not know how to give to halter pressure, do not tie this horse. Please see hauling an untrained/wild below.

Question: What is the safest way to trailer an untrained or wild horse?

Answer: Loose in a stock trailer. Do not try to tie this horse because they do not know how to give to pressure; doing this can put this animal in serious danger to injuring himself. A stock trailer is open and stable enough for these horses to move around. Drive extra cautious because there is a risk of an accident, however, this is the safest approach for hauling the untrained horse. Do not have anything (no, not even a halter) on untrained or wild horses when hauling.

Question: If hauling on horse in a straight two horse trailer, which compartment should the horse be loaded into?

Answer: On the left side, behind the driver (in most parts of the world). This is because roads are crowned by design to encourage good drainage. Your trailer will want to pull a little to the right when driving on the right side of the road. By loading the horse in the left compartment in a two horse, straight load trailer, the rig is better balanced to counter-act the crown of the road.

Question: Is it okay to haul a horse that is already saddled?

Answer: It is not recommended to haul a horse that is already tacked up. The saddle and bridle can get caught up loading the horse in and out of the trailer. If the rig is involved in an accident a saddle or bridle left on the horse can cause even more injury to the animal. Instead, plan to arrive early at your destination to tack up your horse.

Other Quick Tips:

  • Make sure there is the proper amount of air in your tow vehicle and trailer tires. When airing trailer tires, make sure the trailer is empty.
  • Be sure to have mats in the trailer so the horse cannot slip around while he’s inside.
  • Never allow a horse to stick his head outside the trailer while on the move.
  • Always check your spare tires (for both the two vehicle and the trailer), even for a short haul.
  • If you must get in the trailer with the horse to load/unload him/her, make sure the escape door is open AND/OR there is plenty of room for you to get out easily and safely.
  • If there’s a butt bar, clip it before you close the rear trailer doors.
  • Close the trailer doors quietly so as to not startle the horses.

May you have safe travels with your equine companion.

~Kate with OCHS

Halter Safety


To safely halter a horse, we must catch him first. If he is in a field, we need to approach so that he can see us and does not become spooked by our presence. Walk up to the horse’s shoulder while talking softly to him. You may want to walk in a zig-zag sort of pattern or even walk right past him if he’s known to be hard to catch. (I will talk about hard to catch horses in another article.) Once you reach him, give him a good scratch on the shoulder, whither and neck. If you rub him first, he won’t think you are just going to rush the halter over his head and put him right to work. Horses learn quick, and often times, they won’t like to work unless they enjoy their job. So let’s try to make their job more fun! Now that your horse is thoroughly enjoying the attention; it is the time to drape the lead-line over his neck so that you have control of him if he decides to leave at this point. You want to be on the near side, or left side, of the horse to put on the halter. Start by holding the halter in your left hand, unbuckled. Take your right hand and place it over the horses neck. Your right hand should be near to where his jaw bone connects to his throat. Now grab hold of the crown piece of the halter with your right hand so that your left hand is holding the nose piece. In this position, you have complete control of the horses head. With your right hand holding the crown piece, gently ask the horse to bring his head towards you. At this point, you should be standing between the horses head and his shoulder. Bring the horses head towards you then gently slip the nose piece over the horses nose; and at the same time lift up on the crown piece with your right hand. The halter will easily slide over the horses face into position where you can secure it on his head. Be sure that the nose piece is up high enough on the bone of the horses nose when it is fastened. If the halter is too far down towards his nostrils, you can easily injure the horse. Now you have a safely haltered horse.


To the left is an incorrectly haltered horse. To the right is a correctly haltered horse.


Above is a correctly fitted rope halter. Below is an incorrectly fitted rope halter.


Below is a drawing of the horses skull. Here you can see where the bone of the horses nose ends.


If the horses halter is on too tight, there is no wiggle room in the halter. You do want to have wiggle room all the way around the halter.

Question: Is it okay or safe to leave a halter on a horse while he’s out to pasture?

Answer: NO! I cringe every time I see a horse with a halter left on unattended. This is one of the most common problems (let me translate that word to: Dangers) I see today. Here’s why I believe it is not a good idea, and is very dangerous to the horse to leave a halter on unattended. Halters can get stuck on anything. A horse goes to scratch his head on something (probably trying to get that itchy thing off!), well, when he brings his head back up… he can’t! The halter is stuck. The horse panics, begins to thrash and before you know it the horse is all tangled up in a fence, his face scratched, cut or worse.

Another problem is that horses can scratch their face with their legs. A horse goes to lower his head, and intends to scratch his ear with his hoof. Lets say he uses a hind leg to scratch, like a dog would, only the hind leg is now caught in that halter! You can see all kinds of problems this can cause, right? Same thing can happen with a front foot. Lets say you can free this horse, and the horse is basically uninjured. You now have a head-shy horse on your hands even though you didn’t hit or physically cause this horse pain. The fear of the halter getting stuck is now always in this horses mind. It takes a tremendous amount of training to teach a horse that halters and people touching his face, will not always be a bad experience. Horses use their ears, nose, and sight to survive, so having their face caught, I imagine, is one of the scariest thing for a horse to experience.

One more thought on leaving halters on… if halters are left on too long (thus they are tight enough not to come off) they will imprint into the horses face. There are plenty of horses out there that have permanent scars from halters being left on too long. The worst case horses are usually terrified of people, will not let anyone come close to their face. Some horses will even have missing ears and eyes because of halter accidents. In other words, please please PLEASE do not leave a halter on a horse unattended and share your new knowledge with your horsey friends.

Sometimes accidents happen, and they can be totally out of our control. However, we can try to prevent some serious accidents from happening by being proactive in how we manage and care for our horses.

Thanks for reading.


Kate Thomas with OCHS

Diving into the New Year

Hi y’all!

I know these notes seem to be getting farther and farther apart, so I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with those whom they love; spent Christmas enjoying the good things in life; and is starting the New Year off with a good note!

The New Year here at the ranch is off to a wonderful start. We have a new addition! His name is Joe Joe, or just Joe, for short. He is a gorgeous 13 year old sorrel registered paint gelding with striking white stockings and a bald face. He has gotten a reputation for being “Curious Joe” because he investigates everything. He’s a true sweetheart and is blending in well here at the ranch.

Here’s Joe story, the short version: He was a race horse as a youngster but retired because he just wasn’t fast enough. He was such a good boy that he’s been used as a pony horse at the race tracks in Colorado, Texas, and Arizona. His previous owner, Crystal, wanted him to retire from that fast pace life and thought he would fit in well here as a lesson horse. He arrived here on December 18th, late at night. His pasture buddy currently is Doc, but he will be introduced into the herd slowly over the month of January. Joe is currently in training to become a lesson horse for intermediate to advanced riders. He is doing well in his training thus far and it shouldn’t be long before he is helping teach others to become better horseman and women!

I have attached some pictures of Joe below, be sure to take a peek!

In other news, the Summer Camp dates for June, July and August are posted on the main website! We are VERY excited about camps this year. There are new games, new lessons, more hands-on learning, more one-on-one instruction and much more fun to be had! Be sure to reserve your child’s spot early because camps will be filling up. Please read all about our summer camp program here:

Thanks for reading. I will do my best to post more often. Please feel free to leave a comment or send a message about what topics you would like to see covered here!


Warm wishes,

Kate Thomas with OCHS


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2013 Summer Overview

Hey y’all,

I know it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, so I want to share a little about the events that have been going on here at the ranch this summer.


Summer camps were a real hit this year with 7 full weeks of camps. They were such a hit, in fact, that we had to borrow the neighbors trusted older gelding, Cruz, to accommodate another camper for 3 of the 7 weeks! Anira, Buck, Bandit, Ben, and Cruz were used for the week long camps. Biscuit and Gravy enjoyed helping during the two Kiddy Camps (ages 4-6) that we had in June. Please enjoy a few photo’s from camps at the bottom of this note.


In June, I had a client call and requested my help. Her daughters horse had gotten stuck in an irrigation ditch. The daughter had lead her horse from the far pasture to the pasture closer to the house, they crossed the ditch; which was their normal routine. However, this time, the water had washed out the rocks and left a muddy, boggy bottom. The horse got his hind legs stuck and panicked, flipping over on top of the little girl. Thankfully, the little girl was okay. She ended up with only a few bruises. We had to call the fire department to get the horse out of it’s predicament. It took 6 hours, 30+ crew of fire, EMS, vet, large animal rescue, and a large crane to rescue the horse. The horse was sedated and lifted out of the ditch to dry land. The horse walked to his pen under his own power and other than being a little dehydrated, he was perfectly fine. The little girl rode her horse just two days after the incident. To this day, they are both enjoying their rides around the property.

In July, Biscuit and Gravy had the pleasure of dressing up like clowns for a fun filled birthday party for two sisters. Ben, Anira, Buck, and Bandit allowed all 12 of these girls to take turns riding them. They taught them how to stop, walk, turn left and right in preparation for the trail rides. Put-put golf was set up in the driveway, along with horse shoes and croquet. Aside from riding the horses and petting the mini “clowns”; riding on the golf cart was the favorite. The kids had a blast riding around on the golf cart as they watched the other group ride the horses on the trail ride. After the rides, the kids ate lunch and had their ice-cream and cake. Before the kids packed up and headed home, they had to break open a horsey pinata! It was one tough pinata, but in the end, the kiddo’s got their candy.

The bleachers have been completed and have a wonderful roof to block the sun between the 10 o’ clock and 3 o’ clock hours in the summer. We have enjoyed having the families pile up on the bleachers to watch the campers demonstrate their abilities on horseback.


The summer went by so fast. We are so thankful for all the new families that have joined us this year as well as all the returning families. Because without you, what we do here at OCHS, would not be possible.


Many Thanks

~Kate Thomas with OCHS


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Almost Summer Project

Hi y’all,

The snow has melted and the sun has been shining bright! We sure are enjoying these longer days.

With summer camps around the corner, we started a project that I think all of our guests, especially as spectators, will enjoy. What better way than to enjoy the horses, the view and of course your friends and family participating from horseback, than from a set of bleachers?! Come on out and stay a while!


We plan to build a roof to provide some shade soon, too. Please bare with us, and the sun, until we can finish the project! (The handrails will be on before June 1st too!)

Below is the view you can see as you sit on the top seat:

south view

south view

East view (arena view)

East view (arena view)

North View

North View

West view

West view

The horses are all ready for you to come out and enjoy the beautiful Colorado summer from their backs!

Gravy says, "Please, oh please come visit!!! Oh and don't forget those apples!"

Gravy says, “Please, oh please come visit!!! Oh and don’t forget those apples!”

Summer time ponies and their sleek summer coats!

Summer time ponies and their sleek summer coats!

Warm Summer Blessings,

Kate with OCHS