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I have a 6 year old foxtrotter that stumbles with his front feet. When he walks he picks his front feet up very low to the ground,(which makes him very smooth), and on uneven surface it causes him to trip. Do you have any suggestions as how to correct this problem?

horse stumbles because his toe is making contact with the ground before his heel. This can be the result of one of many different factors.

When a horse that has no previous history of stumbling begins to do so, I am suspicious of possible medical problems such as clogged tear ducts, sore back, withers or shoulders, bruised heels, corns, abscesses, navicular disease, etc. Horses that stumble are very dangerous to ride and I would advise anyone that has a horse that stumbles to have the horse thoroughly checked by their vet and farrier for lameness before any shoeing is attempted to stop the stumbling.

Horses will sometimes begin stumbling before a lameness is readily evident. Careful examination for lameness should be your first consideration. Once you have ascertained that the horse is physically sound and healthy and in good physical condition for the level of work required of him, you can look to other things such as rider imbalance, a lazy horse, or possibly a recent change in farriers or shoeing methods.

Sore backs, withers and shoulders can be caused by poor riding or improperly fitting saddles or even by pulling back when tied, and can certainly cause a horse to fail to pick his feet up high enough to avoid stumbling. A good veterinarian checking a horse out for stumbling should examine these areas thoroughly. If soreness is detected the cause must be determined. Sometimes a change of equipment is needed, sometimes a chiropractic adjustment helps, or if the rider is at fault he may need to take lessons.

Plugged tear ducts will cause a horse to loose his equilibrium and make him prone to stumbling. This frequently happens to horses that are eating dusty hay or are eating off the ground. It is a simple matter to have your veterinarian examine and if necessary irrigate the ducts to free them of any obstructions.

Rider imbalance can be detected and corrected if you have an experienced observer and trainer to help you in that area.

If you have a lazy horse you might want to consider shoeing him with heavier shoes on his front feet and/or extending a shoe anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in front of the front foot. This will make it more difficult for him to break over, causing the horse to work harder and concentrate more on lifting his feet up rather than shuffling them along close to the ground. A horse shod in this manner will be unaccustomed to this footwear to begin with, and therefore should be longed without a rider for a couple days so that he can adjust his way of moving. Then he can be ridden lightly (15 to 20 minutes) so that he can develop the psychological and the physical acceptance of these shoes. Over a 3 to 6 month period the shoes can be worked back to their normal weight and placement on the foot. I have had this work very well on lazy horses.

For young horses or horses not in condition, more often than not shoeing with a rocker toe and giving him the proper training and conditioning will end the stumbling.

If a horse is stumbling as a result of a lameness such as the ones mentioned above, you will need to detect and correct that lameness. The nature of the lameness would dictate the type of shoeing best for that particular horse. For example, a horse with an impending navicular disease lameness can frequently be helped in his stumbling with a swelled heel and a rocker-toed shoe.

You might want to look at the long toe/low heel syndrome which will oftentimes cause a horse to stumble. In this case you would need to back up the toe, back up the breakover and support the heels, possibly with a egg bar shoe and a rocker toe.

Horses with corns or bruised heels tend to land toe first in an effort to stay off of those sensitive areas. Much of the pain associated with these lamenesses can be minimized by using what is known as a full protection shoe. This is an egg bar shoe with a frog support plate. Application of the full protection shoe should be only be attempted by an experienced journeyman farrier. Improper application of this shoe could lead to serious complications for your horse. This shoe will relieve a large amount of the support from the heels and area of seat of the corn, thereby allowing these areas an opportunity to heal. I would use this shoe in conjunction with rocker toes.

I hope these suggestions will help give you and your farrier and veterinarian some direction in diagnosing the cause and shoeing to eliminate your horse's stumbling. If I can be of further assistance with how to shoe to remedy the underlying cause, feel free to e-mail me again.

Geronimo Bayard

The American Blacksmith
Oakland, Oregon

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.