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Poverty Line: A Peculiar Term for Thin-Horse AnatomyBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 7, 2017

Even the most novice horsemen can readily identify a skinny horse. Jutting hipbones, a scrawny, ill-muscled neck, and an obvious rack of ribs all attest to subpar nutrition.

When speaking of horses in poor condition, the term “poverty line” is often used. A poverty line describes an indentation that runs between two large muscles of the haunches, the semitendinosus and biceps femoris. Although this depression is typically quite shallow and easily palpable in most horses, except those that are obese, the indentation is especially deep in extremely underweight or poor horses.

Without the fat padding that a horse in at least moderate weight would carry, the muscle groups of the hindquarter are easy to identify. Horses with body condition scores of 1, 2, and 3 almost always have an obvious poverty line. Likewise, the poverty line might be especially noticeable on extremely fit horses such as racehorses, which are usually maintained in lean condition, even when given the best care and nutrition.

The origin of the term is somewhat obscure, though historians believe it was used often in the 1700s by grooms and stablehands.

Have you accepted the challenge of renourishing an underfed horse? Be sure to consult a veterinarian for health questions. Contact a nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) for nutrition assistance.