Causes of Horses Tripping and Stumbling
Every horse trips occassionally. But if your horse trips numerous times on every ride, you have a tripping horse problem.
Horses are not naturally “clumsy”. If they tripped a bunch in the wild, they would be targeted by predators and not be around too long. So even if your horse has tripped since she was a baby, it is still not “normal”.
The following lists typical causes of tripping and stumbling:
Horses that trip only on certain terrain
Rocky or gravel surfaces
Some horses trip only on certain surfaces. Horses that are “ouchy” and/or trip on graveled or rocky paths may simply have sensitive feet. There are many boots, pads, and shoes designed for this type of horse challenge.
Asphalt or grass
Some tripping horses only trip on asphalt or grass surfaces. These surfaces are definitely more slippery and a lot of tripping can be credited to that. Asphalt is also a harder surface. Joint issues tend to show up on harder surfaces.
Sandy terrain, or even deep footing in arenas, can result in tripping or stumbling, especially if your horse isn’t in full condition or isn’t used to moving in this type of terrain. Hock issues often show up in sandy terrain.
Others trip only going uphill. This seemingly strange condition can be caused by caudal heel pain syndrome (formerly called navicular syndrome) or flexor tendon pain.
Horses that trip or stumble only going downhill typically have either stifle problems or lumbar (lower back) issues. If your horse has labored breathing downhill only, consider sternum misalignment.
Horses that trip or stumble “all the time”
Cause of “all the time” tripping: in the horse’s hoof
There are many problems in the horse’s hoof that can be causes of tripping or stumbling in horses.
Hoof angles being either too steep or too shallow
Incorrect angles, even if they are identical angles on both feet, can cause horse tripping.
Right and left hooves at different angles
Having front hooves at different angles is like you wearing two different shoes. It won’t be long until you start tripping.
Toes too long
Often the angles are incorrect if the toes are too long, but not always. Toes too long even with correct angles can cause tripping or stumbling.
Medial to lateral (inside to outside) hoof wall imbalance
This means, for example, that the inside wall of the hoof is higher than the outside wall. (or vice versa)
This not only causes tripping, but is an incredible strain on tendons and joints up the entire leg.
Chronic infections such as white line disease or thrush
Infections can make the feet tender or sore. Horses tend to trip more often when their feet hurt.
Hoof Abscess brewing
This should result in short term tripping on the abscessed foot only.
Previous bout with laminitis (founder) resulting in rotation of coffin bone
If the coffin bone has rotated, the hoof is effectively at a different angle than it should be. It’s “effectively” because the hoof may look normal on the outside. But on the inside the coffin bone is rotated down. This will cause the horse to trip, especially as the toes get longer.
Be sure your farrier sees an x-ray of your horse’s hoof and is trimming to the internal bone angle, rather than the external hoof angle.
Cause of “all the time” tripping: Not in the hoof
If you have eliminated the hoof as the cause of your horse’s tripping or stumbling, there are additional possibilities.
- Poor fitting saddle (see also Does My Horse’s Saddle Fit?)
- Flexor tendons feeling strain and not functioning well. Tendons can be strained on a long-term basis if the hoof angles are incorrect. This may or may not result in a “pulled” tendon.
- Leg joint arthritis. If a horse cannot flex or extend any joint all the way, tripping may result.
- Any joint in the leg being out of chiropractic alignment. There are many areas of the leg (and leg attachment areas) that can be chiropractically affected. These are: the withers, shoulder, shoulder blade, elbow, knee, accessory carpal bone, fetlock, splint bones, sesamoid bones, fetlock, pastern, and coffin bone. Even the sternum (or breastbone) being off center can cause a horse to trip.
What can you do about tripping and stumbling?
If your horse trips or stumbles “all the time”, I would first investigate to find out if it’s ONLY when he or she is being ridden.
If your horse trips only when ridden, I would definitely check your saddle fit. If you have a saddle causing only one very small pressure point, it causes the back muscles pain. Then your horse’s back becomes “hollowed-out”, which stops proper movement of the back, and in turn…the legs. Check out Does My Horse’s Saddle Fit? for saddle fitting information.
If your horse trips even when not being ridden, then the problem is either in the feet, tendons, or joints.
- For ruling out feet issues, consult with your farrier and veterinarian. Radiographs (x-rays) may be valuable for locating any arthritis in the hoof or coffin bone rotation.
- For ruling out tendons, again you’ll need to consult with your veterinarian. Your vet can feel the tendons for swelling, scar tissue and adhesions. In addition, tendon ultrasound will let you see every aspect of the tendons and know for sure if there are any problems.
- For ruling out joint issues, you can consult with your veterinarian too. Veterinarians will flex the joints through all their normal ranges of motion and will be able to detect any arthritis that way, or via radiographs (x-rays). OR you can check them yourself (see below)
If you’d like to save a little money, do your own “Body Checkups” on your horse’s leg joints. The Body Checkups for every joint in the body are all detailed with step-by-step directions (including beautiful color photos and illustrations) in my book Where Does My Horse Hurt? There are also Body Checkups videos on this site that you can try on your horse.
You can check your horse’s leg joints for normal ranges of motion and arthritis too! And for a lot less money. The “Body Checkups” tell you exactly what is normal and what is not…and what to do next to help your horse.
Good luck solving your tripping horse problem!