Development of a body condition index to estimate adiposity in ponies and horses from morphometric measurements

Samantha J. Potter, Madison L. Erdody, Nicholas J. Bamford, Edward J. Knowles, Nicola Menzies-Gow, Philippa K. Morrison, Caroline Mc G. Argo, Bridgett J. McIntosh, Katelyn Kaufman, Patricia A. Harris, Simon R. Bailey*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)
    45 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: There is a high prevalence of obesity in ponies and pleasure horses. This may be associated with equine metabolic syndrome and an increased risk of laminitis. Body condition scoring (BCS) systems are widely used but are subjective and not very sensitive. Objectives: To derive a body condition index (BCI), based on objective morphometric measurements, that correlates with % body fat. Study design: Retrospective cohort study. Methods: Morphometric measurements were obtained from 21 ponies and horses in obese and moderate body condition. Percentage body fat was determined using the deuterium dilution method and the BCI was derived to give the optimal correlation with body fat, applying appropriate weightings. The index was then validated by assessing inter-observer variation and correlation with % body fat in a separate population of Welsh ponies; and finally, the correlation between BCI and BCS was evaluated in larger populations from studies undertaken in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Results: The BCI correlated well with adiposity in the ponies and horses, giving a Pearson r value of 0.74 (P < 0.001); however, it was found to slightly overestimate the % body fat in leaner animals and underestimate in more obese animals. In field studies, the correlation between BCI and BCS varied particularly in Shetlands and miniature ponies, presumably due to differences in body shape. Main limitations: Further work may be required to adapt the BCI to a method that is more applicable for Shetlands and miniature ponies. Conclusions: This BCI was able to provide an index of adiposity which compared favourably with condition scoring in terms of accuracy of estimating adiposity; and was more consistent and repeatable when used by inexperienced assessors. Therefore, this may be a useful tool for assessing adiposity; and may be more sensitive than condition scoring for tracking weight gain or weight loss in individual animals.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)299-308
    Number of pages10
    JournalEquine Veterinary Journal
    Issue number2
    Early online date4 Aug 2023
    Publication statusPrint publication - Mar 2024

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2023 Mars Horsecare UK Ltd and The Authors. Equine Veterinary Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of EVJ Ltd.


    • endocrine
    • equine metabolic syndrome
    • horse
    • obesity
    • Body Composition
    • Body Weight
    • Humans
    • Animals
    • Adiposity
    • Horse Diseases/diagnosis
    • Horses
    • Retrospective Studies
    • Obesity/veterinary


    Dive into the research topics of 'Development of a body condition index to estimate adiposity in ponies and horses from morphometric measurements'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this