A horse’s weight is often gauged by sight. While visual
inspection is an important part of weight management, it is
a good idea to sharpen your body condition scoring skills as
a horse owner to make sure you keep your horse close to the
Horsemen and even some vets consider it a pride to have a good weight
“guess-timation” since weight is so important. However, errors can
result from guessing. Even experience equine veterinarians and horse
owners have been known to under-guess the weight of an adult horse
according to research by up to a hundred pounds or about a ten percent
A slightly more accurate method is using a weight tape, but even these
can fail just like expert guesses since there is no such thing as an
average horse. A horse that is long-backed may have more weight than
indicated. A horse that is short-coupled on the other hand may be
overestimated in their weight. It is even more difficult to determine
how much a foal weight, but knowing the weight of a foal is extremely
important to good management. Until foals are at least three or four
months old the standard weight tape won’t work.
Measuring the heart girth circumference with a cloth tape measure is one
method of weighing foals that has been reported. The inches of
measurement that you get is then divided by .07 to get the total pounds
of foal. However, for foals from thirty to ninety days old this
techniques still underestimates. To improve accuracy you should add ten
percent for this age group.
Using scales is the best method. Cost and convenience limited this
method in the past. However, portable scales today have made this option
more affordable and user friendly. You can easily train a foal or adult
horse to walk up on the platform scales to get their weight. Electronic
sales for livestock can be found from professional farm suppliers.
For several reasons an overweight foal is a concern. The greatest of
these problems is Developmental Orthopedic Disease or DOD. For any
breeder this is a serious condition and the causes are both complex and
not completely understood.
Foals are less prone to DOD as they grow slowly and consistently. Farm
managers gain the necessary data to make appropriate feeding changes by
routinely charting and monitoring the foal weights. The diet can be
altered after young foals have been identified as gaining weight too
When compared to male herd mates, many fillies then to be over condition
or too fat. It is more difficult to change skeletal growth with dietary
changes. The more body fat that is carried by foals and yearlings then
the more at risk they are of over stressing their joints.
It is important to feed all horses individually and useful management
benchmarks can be gained from a scale and tracking weights. After a
convalescent period many sick foals and yearlings will have a rapid
compensatory growth. The fall of the weanling’s first year and the
spring of the yearling year are the most important times for weight
maintenance. Growth rates increase dramatically during these specific
times as a result of the lush pastures.
At this time you may want to consider reducing grain concentrates and
using a lower-caloric balance supplement. Reducing the amount of the
grain ration too much is the most common mistake during this rapid
growth phase from the lush pastures. Growth can be controlled and
nutrient balance maintained as a result of adding a low-caloric
The routine use of scales can also benefit performance horses. All
athletes perform their best when they are at their optimal weight.
Optimal performance can be reduced with as little as thirty to forty
pounds on either end of the scale.
Metabolic disorders, colic and founder can result from broodmares and
stallions that are too fat. You should revisit the simple concept of
using a weight tape if you aren’t already. Scales are also a good
investment for either the competitor or the breeder.