Trip, Stumble and Over-reach

There are many ways a horse can interfere with himself and lose rhythm in the gait. The causes are many but the first thing to establish is WHEN & WHERE & HOW often.

Does it happen regularly each time you go out riding? Does it happen when the horse is tiring at the end of a workout? Some horses will stumble or forge when the feet get long say 6 weeks out from a shoeing. Others will be clumsy on their feet no matter when or what you do. Confusing….you bet. However by being a good observer & testing the horse over a variety of conditions we should be able to establish causes and develop solutions.

If a horse stumbles or trips when he first goes out & then 15 or 20 minutes later warms up & the problem goes away, the odds are its an internal problem. By this I mean it could be bone –related i.e. ringbone, side-bone, navicular…OR muscle stiffness restricting the movement of the limb. One key with these guys is that they are stiff & a bit reluctant to get into work. This type usually does not stride out but remain “choppy” & uncomfortable to sit to. If this is your horse it is likely he will get worse over the next few years and could lead to some expensive vet bills. Many of these problems arise from mineral imbalances particularly deficiencies of magnesium.

Another popular one is the over-reach. Again…How When.. where. If the horse is doing it consistently then it is probably a combination of hoof angles & confirmation. Normally both front feet will be affected. In a small number of cases it can be the shoulders causing the problem. We’re not talking of bone here but the muscles & ligaments that wrap around it. If this is it you will find sensitivity at the shoulder. Usually with shoulder problems one side is affected more than the other, the number of cases with both shoulders out are minimal.

For most of the over-reach cases as we said its down to hoof angles & confirmation. To check out hoof angles get your horse to stand up straight…his legs should be like the legs of a table…straight up & down. Move around to the shoulder & then take a couple of steps back. Keep your eyes in line with the two front legs. Squat down & look across the front feet. What do you see? Are the two front feet even? Is one foot more upright than the other? The pastern is that short section of bone that leads to the foot. Does the pastern angle match the hoof angle? A good farrier will try to match these angles by corrective trimming of the foot. A few millimeters here & there may not seem like much but can make a world of difference. If the feet seem laid back with a long toe out front & low heels then this will probably be it. Often these horses are losing shoes b4 time by stepping on the heels of the front shoe with the back foot. With these guys the over-reaching gets worse over time; it may start with forging which gives that telltale “click\clack”. What’s happening here is the back foot is crashing into the bottom of the front foot just as it is leaving the ground. The sound you hear is metal on metal. As it gets worse the back foot connects with the front b4 it leaves the ground slicing into the back of the frog and taking chunks off the bulbs of the heels. These cases are usually reversible and with good shoeing hoof angles can be restored & the problem will go away.

What can the farrier do? A number of variables are possible. First thing to do is rasp the front toes & save the heel in order to stand the front feet up. At the same time he may put double clipped shoes with a long heel on the back feet in order to slow them down a little, so they don’t catch the front feet on the way through. As a last resort I fit the front feet with a “rocker –toe” shoe which assists them to get out of the way a little quicker. Be warned these shoes can be dangerous to the horse initially until he gets used to them and then he may get too used to them & become dependant on them; meaning he won’t go well without them. I view these aids as temporary & always plan to return the horse to “normal shoes” after correction has been achieved. Please note that nobody can change the bone angles of an adult horse but a good farrier will moderate the trends and keep the horse balanced. There’s not much the farrier can do if you only get him out twice a year; but with regular maintenance most problems can be kept under control.

Riding styles & gear can contribute to these problems also. If the horse’s head is way up in the air or the hindquarters are not engaged; then neddy can’t use himself properly. Similar if the saddle is too far back or the front legs are restricted by the girth. It’s important to pull the legs forward while tightening the girth to enable full movement of the horse’s forearm. Don’t do it after the girth is fully tight as the sensitive skin of the armpit won’t pull through and you will only make the horse annoyed. Fair enough too…. try grabbing the skin under your armpit & then straightening the arm…Ouch….no wonder they don’t extend the leg properly!!

If your horse is over-reaching regularly then the farrier will be the first person to consult. As we said earlier a small change in hoof angles or modified shoes may solve the problem. If the horse’s action needs correcting then you will definitely need shoes. It is possible to do corrective trimming however if you are working the horse then shoeing will be required to balance the feet and alter “wear” patterns.

There are very, very few horses with perfect confirmation & it is part of the farrier’s job to take leg angles into account when shaping shoes for your horse.

If over reach or forging continues regardless of what the farrier does; then we have to look to how the leg leaves the ground & whether it is taking a full stride or not. A shoulder problem may cause the forearm or upper leg to be restricted & this can affect the stride. If the animal has hip pain or rear leg injury this may also affect the stride of the front feet. What happens here is that the weight transfer is changed; the horse is sore in the rear & as a result transfers weight to the front legs. This causes the front foot to delay take-off & the back foot comes through & steps on it. Some of these cases can appear confusing, as what we see is the horse stepping short on a front leg. If we can find no evidence of injury in that leg then it is always worthwhile to check the rear diagonal. For example if stepping short with a front left leg then check right rear. Prod around in the sacrum area for sensitivity & check legs for heat & swelling. The sacrum is like our hips & is located on the top line roughly half way between the back of saddle & the start of tailbone.

The vet if called may recommend X-rays & \or drug treatment. Some of them do acupuncture but all of these treatments will come at considerable cost. I am reluctant to mention horse massage, as there are so many shonks in the game. If you can find a good one they may help. A good operator can massage muscle back into place however this needs to be done whilst the horse is in work to allow the muscles to readjust. Trotting if worked on both leads is the best work to give the horse to even up the muscles.