What is causing my horse to stumble?

Q: I have my horse shod regularly – usually every five weeks – and his feet look perfectly normal to me. But he trips a lot, especially when being ridden in a paddock. Is this a physical/foot problem, or to do with the way he is being ridden? Is there anything my farrier can do?

Stumbly bumbly, Christchurch

A: Nice to hear you are having your horse shod regularly, that’s very important and can help to reduce the likelihood of many common problems.

There are a number of elements that can contribute, encourage or exaggerate stumbling in a horse. It may be that one or a combination of these factors could be the cause:

  • Long toes/low heels (should ideally be improved through regular shoeing)
  • Conformational imperfections (a limb that is not straight will not necessarily move straight)
  • An unfit horse (horse may find it harder to move forwards)
  • An overweight horse
  • A young or green horse
  • Unbalanced feet
  • Unbalanced or overweight (for the horse) rider
  • A horse not ridden suitably
  • Uneven or heavy-going riding surface
  • Lameness

Many of these factors are related to the ease (or lack of) to which the horse can break over and move forwards. Anything that restricts or inhibits the movement of the front feet and horse can encourage stumbling.

Having identified the cause should assist you with and your chosen professionals with arriving at a suitable solution and course of action to improve the stumbling problem.

From a farriery viewpoint assisting the breakover of the front feet may be a consideration. This can be done in a number of ways but the most popular methods include a break over assisting/rolled/rocker-toe  shoe or fitting the shoe slightly under the toe. This may make it easier for the horse to move forwards and reduce the likelihood of stumbling. Your own farrier will be able to offer advice if this is considered to be appropriate for your particular horse.

David Hankin Dip.WCF

This question and answer originally appeared in NZ Horse & Pony magazine, February 2009