DEAR DANA: My horse has been stumbling a lot with me. Any suggestions of what I can do?
DEAR ELAINE: I take it very seriously when my horse stumbles. It is potentially dangerous — I know of horses that have stumbled and then fallen with their rider!
There are three main reasons that a horse may stumble:
1. The first is laziness, or moving on his front end. If your horse is heavy in the mouth, and when you pick up on your reins, or stop him, he feels heavy or almost pulls you forward, then you know he is traveling out of balance on his front end. You also may notice he feels rougher or quicker on the ground. A balanced, collected horse has lift and moves softer!
As a rider, we can also contribute to that heaviness by being heavy-handed ourselves, as if we pull him to a stop and he jerks the reins out of our hands, or even just pulls back on us. When this happens, then we are perpetuating the heaviness by not correcting it and by allowing it! When you take hold of your horse for any reason and he pulls back, that is a form of a refusal that can lead to him traveling with his weight on his front end.
The best way to correct this if it has become a problem is to hold or bump lightly until he quits pulling down and recenters his body weight back over his hindquarters. He will use his hindquarters and back, thereby engaging more collection and become more balanced. You will find he will get more cadenced in his movement and become easier to sit. The other thing that you can do is, when you stop him and he stops heavy or pulls on you keep pulling until he backs up. As soon as you feel him lift his shoulders and back softly, release him!
Most horses didn’t develop this habit overnight. As riders, it is very easy to become mindless or think about other things, and sometimes we have to coach ourselves to become more aware and mindful of our cues — and how we are giving them. We also really need to pay attention to our horses and what they are doing underneath us. Bad habits often develop slowly! If you have identified that your horse is moving heavy, and on his front end, change your expectations and standard of what you expect and chip away at requiring that he move soft and balanced. The key ways I correct my horses are:
* Don’t allow him to pull back on my with the bridle reins.
* Practice collection, drive him to his face encouraging him to lift and soften.
* Stop and back or stop and rollback to redirect his body weight.
2. The next cause of him stumbling or tripping is that his foot has way too much toe. I find that usually this is not the sole or only cause of tripping. It is often a combination of him moving on his front end and aggravated by a long toe. If he looks like he has a lot of toe, ask your veterinarian if his shoeing angles are ok. When a horse has an excessive amount of toe, it changes the flight of his hoof on the ground; it changes the break over time in his stride. Your farrier can make any changes needed. Remember, every horse is different –they are individuals just like people, and often by changing their angles they can become more comfortable!
3. The third reason for a horse stumbling or tripping may be that he has a medical problem. I have personally known horses that have had navicular and they stumble a lot. I also know that some horses with neurological problems will stumble. I recommend that you have a veterinarian examinee your horse if he continues to stumble.
I hope this helps you! I also really recommend the DVDs Take Control Vol. 1-4 as they will help you to keep your horse light, responsive, and balanced as well as teach you how to use your hands and improve your feel and neck reining skills!
Also, for continual help with your horse join “Team Hokana” and receive three online training videos per month that will help you and your horse become the best that you can be!