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Published: 2017-01-28 23:10:26 Categories: Horse health Rss feed

Mój koń się potyka przyczyny i zwalczanie problemu background source:, phot. Julia Świętochowska

How many of you have sat on a stumbling horse? It is not a particularly nice sensation when you feel that the horse cannot control his own body, pulls the reins out of your hands in order to regain balance, and moving his neck, while you in the saddle stop breathing for a while and pray for him to regain it as soon as possible :)

Every animal happens to have more and less clumsy days, just like we do. Often their tiredness or not friendly surface causes the horse to stumble and that's perfectly normal. However, some horses stumble on a virtually even ground, regardless of the weather and day. We get used to it, it has to be their "laziness." But is it the real cause? We decided to take a look at it!

Stumbling - is it a problem?

Stumbling is a serious problem at horses, which poses a danger to their health. The horse stumbles with his front edge of the hoof and for a brief moment he balances on the edge. Will he fall or won't he?

In such situation many riders forget to loosen the reins and lean back in the saddle to shift the body weight to the horse's croup and relief his front. Stronger horses might whip the reins out of the hands of a not flexible rider, but it also happens that the rider will hang on the reins and fall forwards with them. We have little influence over what the horse will do while stumbling, but we definitely won't help him acting in such a way.

Stumbling before an obstacle might cause even more damage than stumbling during regular ride on an even ground on a manage. The animal while losing balance right before jumping might fall onto the obstacle.

We once witnessed such situation: a horsewoman was riding on a young horse, who was distracted. She approached at a canter straight rails of 60-70 cm height that wasn't preceded with any hint. The horse stumbled at 2 foules before the obstacle and from a canter shifted into a trot for a while. The slightly distracted horse didn't know if he should run at a canter again or if he should jump over the obstacle at a trot. The rider didn't know that either. There was only a split second to decide. It ended with the horse falling into the obstacle in such a way that one of the rail ended above his front left leg and below his front right one. The horse, in order not to break his leg, had to bend them and fell forwards stopping with his head below his barrel. He could have broken his neck! It looked really dangerous, but fortunately ended well.

The rider's experience could have been of a great importance in the aforementioned situation, but unfortunately, she lacked it. However, it was the stumble that was the prime cause of the danger.

Equally dangerous for life and health of horses and riders is stumbling in the field that happens much more often than on the manage. Sticking out tree roots, rocks, or ground irregularities cause the animal to lose balance. If he loses balance while going downhill or on a muddy terrain, it might easily lead to an injury, pull, or muscle strains.

koń się potyka source:, phot. Natalia Łabuzek

The issue of stumbling is unfortunately often overlooked. Even when the horse stumbles frequently, definitely more often than other horses, we will usually hear "Oh, he's just lazy," or "That's just how he is - clumsy and clyde." Of course, every healthy horse happens to stumble once in a while. Exhaustion, speed, uneven ground, or simply distraction might contribute to it.

However, if your horse stumbles a lot, it is a problem you cannot ignore!

Stumbling - causes

potykanie się konia source:

The cause of stumbling might be poor training of the horse, but also his physical built.

When the horse takes a step, he shifts his front leg forwards, directing his hoof vertically downwards in the air. The first thing to touch the ground is the heel of the hoof, and split seconds later, another parts all the way to the top of the hoof (relic of the horse's toes). Just like people, they first put their heel down, then toes. However, humans have their feet constantly in parallel to the ground while they're moving, which gives us advantage over horses.

While taking a step, the horse shifts his body weight forwards, leaning on his skeletal system that is stabilized by ligaments, joints and muscles. After the phase of leaning, the horse lifts a hoof, raising his heel off the ground. The last to touch the ground is the "toe" of the hoof and the leg shifts forwards again, beginning the whole cycle anew.

When the horse stumbles, he always hooks the front of the hoof, so the lowest, thinnest, and the most front-end part of the hoof - the place where the front wall meets the sole.

Distraction is probably the most common cause of stumbling, especially when it comes to young horses. If the horse stumbles during training, usually the cause is his rider, who is not focused enough on the performed exercises. Repetitiveness and predictability causes the horse to become bored - this is why versatility of trainings and giving the horse new tasks and goals is crucial. The horse will never concentrate on training if the rider is not his leader and is not in charge. Lack of trust causes the horse to start looking around, trying to find some source of danger, so in turn they don't look under their legs.

How to identify whether stumbling is an issue or not? When should we be alarmed?

  • You can predict when your horse will stumble - for example: on a road in the field you can see a sticking root and you already know that your horse won't see it; while walking out of transport trailer he always hooks his hooves on something.
  • Your horse has troubles with regaining balance after stumbling. The reason of stumbling was banal and your horse falls forwards as if he stumbled on a huge stump. Usually he is not able to regain balance after stumbling on a rock and he either kneels on his front legs or completely falls down.

The most common causes of stumbling

In many cases, in order to reach the real cause of your horse's stumbling, you have to ask a veterinarian, smith and coach for help. However, below we attempt at discussing 5 most common causes of notorious stumbling:

1. It depends on your horse's body build.

Why? Horses usually carry 60% of their weight on their front legs. If the horse is built in such a way that his croup is higher than his withers, the front automatically will take even more weight. The higher his croup is in proportion to the front, the less favorable his build is. Additional weight on the front makes it difficult for the horse to regain his balance. If you add to it the speed of movement and lack of the rider's attempts at collecting the horse (namely, to teach the horse to shift his body weight from the front to the croup through its engagement) then we have a pretty clear reason for stumbling.

Many young horses go through stages, where their rear legs grow much faster than their front ones, so their croups are much higher than the front with withers. In most cases, this state doesn't last long, because their front legs "catch up" the rear ones. However, some horses have such a build, where their necks are low, which becomes a problem once they grow older.

On the other hand, some build issues that are most probably the cause of stumbling, don't have to be the cause at all. However, they become the cause if the horse has very steep fetlocks.

Tip: Take a look at your horse from a side. If his build croup-withers tends to have strongly loaded front (with low front and high back), and his fetlocks are steep, he might have a problem with keeping balance while having a rider on his back. Such horse is more prone to leaning on the front, usually suspending on the reins.

What to do: You can improve your horse's balance through proper training. Strengthening his croup through collecting and constant teaching him to shift the weight to the croup. Working with a horse with such a build will definitely be more difficult, but the results will be more spectacular. However, such horse will never be suitable for performing high sport, since the load will be heavier than in a ordinary job. It is also good for you to avoid uneven or squishy ground with such horse.

2. It depends on his hoof build.

Horse with a long coffin bone (relic of the horse's toes) has also a longer front hoof wall, so it's easier for him to hook the ground, at the same time stumbling a lot more often.

coffin bone
 auth. dr. Christoph von Horst, source:

Why? A long coffin bone usually occurs along with an underdeveloped heel. When the whole hoof develops during the growth period, "horse's hooves," namely coffin bone tends to lengthen, while the heel starts to roll and hide, which causes it to not carry as much weight as the rest of the heel. That encourages the horse to lean more on the front of the hoof, so at the same time to stumble.

The horse's body and build can be prone to develop longer coffin bone. However, this issue can be caused both by us and by our smith. How? By inadequate forging, cleaning, and by waiting too long in between the smith's visits.

Tip: Not only the aforementioned heel build, but also a broken axis of hooves (the angle of fetlocks is steeper than the angle of hoof walls) can cause an excessive growth of coffin bone at the horse. But there is no one rule when it comes to the right period in between smith's visits. It is good to observe the state of your horse's hooves and don't wait longer than 6-8 weeks for another visit, especially when you want to shoe your horse.  

What to do: Contact your smith and veterinarian so you can come up with a plan together to work on an issue with the hooves build. You may have to shorten the gaps in between the smith's visits so he/she could shoe your horse more often and at the same time slightly file the front of your horse's hoof, shortening the growing bone and giving the horse ability to lean more on his heels.

3. Pain causes it.

Before the discomfort leads to an obvious and easily diagnosed lameness, it can at first cause the horse to move correctly. What does it mean? We mean the way in which he moves his loges. It might result in short quick steps, as if he was walking on an uncomfortable, slippery and hard ground - like on ice.

hoof structure
Why? The reason for such pain may be a hoof disease. What's important, you should also take into consideration the heel might be injured, or the back of the hoof may be painful, they are the most common causes of stumbling. In many cases the issue involves a.o. weight-bearing structures. Those structures include coronet joint (the place in which the coronet bone, coffin bone and sesamoid bone meet) and deep flexor bone, which goes under the sesamoid bone in the heel, and its end is attached to the bottom surface of the coffin bone. When the horse shifts his weight to a leg, those structures and ligaments and soft tissue connected with them take pressure. Then the sesamoid bone is pressed from the top and bottom. If an inflammation develops in the sesamoid bone or tissue surrounding it, each step becomes extremely painful for the horse. He will try to take very small steps, leaning heavily on the front of the hoof in order to avoid discomfort.

Issues in the fetlock area may also contribute to the stumbling problem. They are caused, among others, by degeneration of joints. Those changes can limit the horse's range of movements and cause pain.

Issues concerning higher parts of the horse's limbs also lead to stumbling. For example, bone fragments in the fetlocks, knees, or even shoulder blades may cause the horse to be unable to move freely, and that in turn can lead to shortening the step and insecure gait. Moderate pain of the horse's delicate ligaments and joints also causes stumbling.

Tip: Although pain in both of the front legs is nothing unusual and uncommon, mostly it happen in one leg at the time. The horse will be more prone to unload the leg which hurts, while resting and standing on the rest of his legs. It's good to take a look at the front leg and compare it to the other one.

What to do: Call a veterinarian, who will help you find the source of the issue and tell you what to do in order not only to limit the stumbling, but also prevent the risk of lameness and long-term injury.

4. Neurological causes.

The horse's movement coordination depends on the neural signals, which come from the horse's brain to his muscles, and then come back from the muscles to brain. If this communication is not simple, the horse might not have full control over his body, especially his legs. That of course makes it easier for him to stumble.

potykanie się problem konia source:, phot. Natalia Łabuzek

Why? There are many possible reasons: cord injury, neck joints inflammation, Wobbler syndrome (lack of physical coordination caused by unusual growth of cervical vertebrae that puts pressure on the spinal cord) and diseases such as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), lyme disease, herpes virus infection, or inner ear bacterial infections. All those diseases might cause changes in the horse's movements.

Tip: Many neurological problems at first appear by weakening the rear legs or anomaly in keeping balance. Horse with neurological issues may stand on his back legs and then have troubles with regaining balance. Such horses usually fall by the slightest of stumbles, where other horses have no problem with regaining balance. 

What to do: Call a veterinarian, who will run neurological examination and a series of simple tests that will check the horse's reactions. The vet will make sure if your horse is fully in control of his limbs. It the tests show any anomalies, the vet will propose a further plan and steps to take in order to diagnose the problem.

5. It depends on the rider.

The rider's weight and wrong position might be the reasons why the horse stumbles more easily.

Why? It is said the horse can effortlessly carry a rider that weights around 20% of his own body weight. However, it is not entirely true, as a rider, who cannot control his center of gravity is a more difficult baggage than something way heavier than the rider. The rider often moves in a way that is completely unpredictable for the horse. What is more, we should take into consideration the horse's build and experience are also crucial. It is not without reason that inexperienced entrants should learn with the so-called "professor horses." An experienced horse will deal much better with an unstable center of gravity of the rider.  

An additional load for the horse will be a rider, who leans forward too much, especially in stressful and uncomfortable situations. That additionally puts weight on the horse's front, so also his front legs. That gives as 60% of the horse's body weight + at least 10% of the rider's weight = total load on the horse's front legs.

Tip: It's easy to check is the rider's the reason of the horse's constant stumbling. All you have to do is to ask a more experienced and lighter rider, who has better control of his/her center of gravity. That will allow you to see if the horse will stumble just as frequently under a new rider.

What to do: Ask a coach for opinion, who is an authority for you. He/She could watch you while riding and devise a proper training plan so you could correct your balance is the saddle.

potyka się koń co zrobić source:, phot. Julia Świętochowska

Riding on a stumbling horse

Prevent: If you see something that may cause your horse to stumble on the way, try to focus his attention quickly. Hold him tighter on the reins or even stop and start him again. Both holding the reins and giving them to the horse might help, especially if your horses stumbles anyway, you will make it easier for him to work with his neck, which will in turn help him quicker regain balance.

While stumbling: try to lean back in order to not load the horse's front body. Move your hand slightly forwards and relax your palm so the horse can "steal" the reins a little from you, while trying to keep balance. That will also help you stay in position and you won't fall after the reins your horse will pull.

Protect yourself: first of all, always wear a helmet. Second of all, if the attempt to regain balance is failed, try to quickly take your legs out of the stirrups, so you can land on your own legs if the horse falls, or at least so you are able to roll farther from the horse so he won't hurt you.

Based on:, "

Oops! My Horse Stumbles!", 

accessed: 28.01.2017 

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