Stumbling & Overreaching

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Q: I found your website while looking for information about how to help my horse.

I have a toed-out horse (not too bad, but it is noticeable) and he has trouble stumbling, and occasionally overreaches.  I realize that this is probably conformation related, but I was hoping there was something I could possibly do to help him not to stumble so much.  My farrier does a good job with him, and only does cold shoeing, but my trainer is worried that it's not enough and that the horse may eventually fall one day while I'm working him.  My trainer also suggested that this horse is "hog-backed?"  I've never heard this term before, and honestly am not sure if I completely understand it, but I guess that my trainer feels that this problem might also be responsible for some of the stumbling?

I do not want to sell the horse, he has a great mind and a good work ethic, but I need to find a way to help him with his movement, otherwise I feel that working him could be detrimental.

Thank you for your time,

A: I have heard of roach-backed, sway-backed, short- and long-backed horses, but hog-backed is a new one to me.
 
I'm trying to picture in my mind a typical hog's back to  figure out the analogy and all I come up with is a long back, which tends to make a horse less prone to overreaching. A long back can tend to be more weak than a shorter and more muscular back, however, and if the back gets sore the horse will definitely tend to both stumble and overreach.
 
Toeing out does not predispose a horse to either stumbling or overreaching so I wouldn't look there for the answer. An answer must be found, though, because a bad stumbler is indeed one of the most dangerous horses there are to ride in addition to just plain being no fun!
 
Have you read the Q&As on our web site on stumbling & overreaching? If not, I suggest you start with http://www.americanblacksmith.com/blacksmithstable/stumbling.htm . Then read http://www.americanblacksmith.com/blacksmithstable/overreaching.htm .
 
I will say that in my experience most horses that overreach and/or stumble badly do so because of sore backs. I suggest you have a good vet and a good equine chiropractor check out your horse. You would be amazed at how much relief a good chiropractic adjustment can bring to a suffering horse. Deep muscle massage will also help but only temporarily if an adjustment is needed.
 
The second most common cause of stumbling and overreaching I have observed is long toes. They frequently will cause or at least exacerbate sore backs and sore tendons.
 
If your cold shoeing farrier is a good one, he should be able to do what is needed to help your horse stop stumbling. As I have said, though, I'd check out the horse's back (entire top line, actually) first. Then I'd make sure his toes are properly backed up. If these two things don't solve your horse's problem I would work through all the suggestions in the two articles referenced above.
 
Good luck with your horse. I really enjoy hearing how the problem is resolved so please do get back to me with a progress report and feel free to write again if I can clarify something or be of more help.

Q: Thanks for your response, I greatly appreciate it.  I think your articles online are very informative!

As for "hog-backed"  I've never heard of that term either and I've been around horses all my life!  My trainer described it as his withers being shorter than his haunches.  He also mentioned that his hips were wider than his shoulders.  I could see what he was talking about after he pointed it out, but it's not extreme differences.  His haunches might be only an inch or two taller than his withers, but the trainer mentioned that a difference puts a strain on the back and causes their weight to be pushed to their forehand instead of their haunches.  He said that might be the reason the horse is stumbling, and also because the horse is toed out.

His back isn't long, he's overall a pretty small horse.  He's got Smokin Jose in his pedigree, so he's a little, short cow horse.  I measured him at 14.1, and he's got a short back and just a pretty small frame, but he's built like a "bulldog" quarter horse.

I'm still not sure I completely understand the term "hog-backed" but the description I gave above was the impression I got about what he meant.  I'm still researching the issue further, but just wanted to get input from other professionals as well.

I do plan to have a chiropractor look at him as that has worked well for other horses we've owned that have had gait problems.  I don't feel that his toes are long, our farrier is pretty good about keeping on top of that, but I'll ask him if he thinks he might need to take more off. 

I did read your articles on stumbling and overreaching and plan to show them to my farrier (and possibly my vet) and I will also show them the email you sent me.  I do thank you for your advice, I think it might be able to help him, and we'll see how it goes.

Thanks for your help, if you can think of anything else that might be useful please let me know if your schedule permits!

A: Cherry Hill & Richard Klimesh's excellent book Maximum Hoof Power has this to say about the conformation you describe:
 

If the forehand is proportionately larger than the hindquarters, especially if it is associated with downhill topline, the horse's center of gravity tends to be forward. This causes the horse to travel heavy on his front feet, setting the stage for increased concussion, stress and lameness. When the forehand and hindquarters are balanced and the withers are level with or higher than the level of the croup, the horse's center of gravity is located more rearward. Such a horse can carry more weight with his hindquarters, thus move in balance and exhibit a freer motion with his forehand than the horse with withers lower than the croup.

 
This is well accepted and proven to the extent that for dressage and jumping most people will not consider a prospect that is lower in the withers than the croup. I would also say it could contribute to stumbling because any time the horse is heavy on the fore he is more likely to stumble.
 
Having said that I must add that I have ridden many horses that are lower in front and none were particularly prone to stumble. My horse Magic Man is higher in the croup and with him I won more dressage, jumping and eventing competitions than I could ever remember, including 2 Area VII (5 Northwest states) eventing championships. He was always hard to collect but was very sure footed on the trail as well in the arena. So...go figure!
 
The downhill conformation seems more prevalent in Quarter Horses than any other breed and yet no one could ask for more collection than a cutting or good reining horse. I'd agree that the low withers may be a contributing factor to your horse's problem but would look for other factors more directly causative.
 
And, for the record, I did not choose Magic Man as a prospect but had owned his mother since I was a pre-teenager and just kept him when he was born. Thank goodness!
 
Well, that's about all I can add. Nothing is ever clear cut or simple in the horse business, is it?

Q: Thanks again for your response, I appreciate it, and know you must be busy.

I'll look into the shoeing options you suggested and plan to get a chiropractor as soon as there is an opening that I can make an appointment for. If you want me to I'll let you know how it turns out, which hopefully will be for the better!  He's such a sweet horse, I really hope I can find him some help to hopefully end his stumbling...
Everybody's response so far has been "just sell him"  But I care so much about him, and he's come so far!---so I hate to just give up on him, and greatly appreciate your information with options for me to try!

Hopefully I can get Gunner turned around because I do not want to sell him. He's such a love, and all the other horses I've had in my life have been really good horses, but not one of them was a "lover," and I've just fallen completely in love with his personality and work ethic.. so I just don't want to sell him.  However, my trainer advises that I consider it because he's worried I might get hurt, and I am as well, but I just can't give up on him...not yet anyways.  I just feel like I've got to give him a chance to get this problem turned around.

Thanks again for all of your help!  I  love your website and think your articles are very informative!  Thanks again!


About one month later:

Q: I don't know if you remember my horse, but he was the horse who was toed out and kept stumbling.  You recommended corrective shoeing and a chiropractor.  I had a chiropractor who came out and looked at him and did some adjustments.

He's doing great!  I think that was all he needed because he's quit tripping and I haven't had to use corrective shoeing!  I would recommend a chiropractor to all of my friends who are having horse troubles!  I just wanted to keep you updated and let you know how he's doing!  


Thanks for your help!
Take Care!

A: Thank you for the update! It was especially gratifying because of the good results.
 
The only downside is when you think of all the horses over all the years that have had tie-down shortened, been whipped and had more severe bits used on them because horsemen had no idea that the horse's bad attitude and lack of cooperation was because he was in pain. At least horses that stumbled were just thought of as clumsy and people avoided riding them.
 
I don't know if you discussed continuing treatments with your chiropractor, but there is a good chance that your horse will need to be adjusted as often as monthly for a while and occasionally thereafter. It depends a lot on how long he has had the problem. You can just wait and see if the stumbling starts up again and if it does, schedule an adjustment then or you can have Gunner checked monthly then quarterly after a couple clean checks, etc.
 
I am really happy for the both of you!

Sincerely,

Mrs. Mary Bayard
 
Dodge Creek Stables
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.