Definition of A Starved Horse

We consider a horse starved and in need of special attention if:

  1. The horse is inadequately fed, has a body condition score (BCS) (Table 1) of less than 3 and has no other unassociated health problems. OR
  2. The horse had had nothing at all to eat for at least five days. OR
  3. A horse that has lost more than 15% of its body weight in the previous 60 days or less and has no other unassociated health problems.

Health problems of starved or neglected horses

Apart from being undernourished, many horses that have been seized or rescued from a situation in which they were not receiving proper care have a myriad of other health issues that need to be attended to in the early days of rehabilitation. A full veterinary examination will highlight most of these problems that can include, but are not limited to:

  • Skin conditions: rain rot, scratches, ticks, lice, mange, sunburn, ringworm, wounds, proud flesh, etc.
  • Hoof problems: overgrown hooves, seedy toe, cracks, corns, thrush, abscesses, bruises
  • Disease: viral or bacterial infections, some can be highly contagious and dangerous and your vet will advise regarding appropriate parasite burden, diarrhea, constipation
  • Teeth problems: sharp points on teeth causing gum and cheek lacerations, mislalignment, wavemouth
  • Soundness: past illness or injury, arthritis, severe conformational problems, etc.
  • Poisoning: a result of scavenging unusual feedstuffs such as toxic plants and weeds

Did you know?

  • A horse needs 1.5-2% of their body weight in feed, hay, grass every day to maintain its body condition. So an average horse that weights 1,000 lbs. should get approximately 15 to 20 lbs of daily feed, consisting of hay, grass and/or feed.
  • An ill fitting saddle can permanently cause lameness in your horse. A saddle must fit the horse comfortably to avoid pain which can also cause your horse to react to the pain and be unsafe. Take the time to find a saddle that fits your horse to avoid future problems that could be harmful to the horse and/or to you.
  • A horse need its feet trimmed every 5 to 10 weeks, depending on their individual growth pattern. Overgrown hooves can be painful and can cause lameness which is painful and can be permanent.
  • ‚ÄčThere is no good excuse for an “old” horse to be skinny, unless it is suffering from a disease. We have seen many senior horses in their 20′s, 30′s and even 40′s rehabilitated back from starvation to their full weight. They just need to be fed properly for the individual horse. Many times is is dental problems, or no teeth at all. Since horses need their teeth to grind hay and grass to get the proper nutrition, this won’t work for our “toothless” friends. There are many types of feed these horses can eat successfully to gain and maintain their weight. Check with your veterinarian for the proper diet for your senior horse. Don’t let anyone tell you it is not possible. With the exception of certain diseases, there is no excuse for a thin older horse.

Henneke Body Condition Score

Henneke11. Poor/Extremely emaciated

The backbone, ribs, hipbones and tailhead are all prominent. The neck is hollow, and the bones of the shoulders, withers, pelvis and neck are easily discerned. The spine projects, with individual vertebrae clearly seen and easily palpated. No fat can be palpated.

Henneke22. Very thin/Emaciated

There is slight fat over the backbone yet it is prominent. Ribs, tailhead, and pelvic bones stand out. Bone structures of the neck, withers, and shoulder are evident.

Henneke33. Thin

The backbone is prominent. A slight fat layer can be felt over the ribs, the tailhead is evident, but individual vertebrae cannot be seen. The hip bones cannot be seen, but withers, shoulder and neck are emphasized.

Henneke44. Moderately Thin

There is a negative crease along the back. An outline of the ribs can be seen. Fat is palpable around the tailhead. Hip bones cannot be seen. Withers, neck and shoulders are not obviously thin.

Henneke55. Moderate

Back is level. Ribs can be felt but not easily seen. Fat around tailhead feels spongy. Withers are rounded and shoulders and neck blend smoothly into the body.

Henneke66. Moderately Fleshy

A slight crease is along the back. Fat on the tailhead feels soft. Fat over the ribs is spongy. There are small deposits of fat along the withers, behind the shoulders and along the neck.

henneke77. Fleshy

A crease is seen down the back. Ribs may be felt but fat between ribs is obvious. Fat on tailhead is soft. There is noticeable fat along neck, behind shoulders and withers.

henneke88. Fat

Crease down back is prominent. Ribs difficult to feel due to fat in between. Neck is thick and cresty. Wither area is filled with fat, and very soft fat is over the tailhead. The space behind shoulders is filled in and flush, and there is fat along the inner buttocks.

Henneke99. Extremely Obese

The crease down the back is very prominent. Fat is in patches over rib area, with bulging fat over tailhead, withers, neck and shoulders. Fat along inner buttocks may rub together and flank is filled in flush.

Horses falling at either extreme of the scale are at increased risk for health problems and should be seen by a veterinarian. A physical exam and nutritional analysis can often determine the cause, although sometimes blood tests are required to get to the root of the problem.Body condition scoring is an important way to track your horse’s health. Make a point of assessing it every few weeks so alterations from a healthy weight can be caught early and more easily corrected.1. Henneke, D.R., et. al., 1983. Equine Veterinary Journal, 15 (4): 371-372.