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
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
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.
The American Blacksmith