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Why Do Horses Trip and Stumble So Much? 7 Reasons

Last updated: May 11, 2021

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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You are out for your regular Saturday morning ride. The day is bright and clear. The horse knows the trail well. It’s wide open, smooth and flat. Then, it happens. The horse suddenly stumbles. What caused it?

Horses trip and stumble for various reasons, including problems with their hoofs or tack, boredom, chronic pain, conformation issues, or medical problems like nerve damage. If your horse repeatedly stumbles, contact a vet, and have him give your horse a thorough examination.

Horses shouldn’t always stumble, and if yours does, it could be the symptom of an underlying issue.

Seven reasons a horse may trip and stumble.

Some of the reasons a horse stumble can lead to serious health issues and be dangerous for both horse and rider, so you need to get to the bottom of this issue promptly. It could be an easy fix like a tack adjustment or hoof trim.



Have you ever been exceedingly bored? It’s a frustrating feeling. Horses are highly intelligent, and they can get very, very bored. When that happens, the horse can develop all kinds of vices. Not all of them are going to be in the stable, either.

The third sentence in the beginning paragraph could be a clue as to why that particular horse stumbled. If you don’t like the same old same old, think about the horse. If you go on the same path every time you ride, it could be bored of that.

I once had a horse that couldn’t lead a trail ride without stumbling. He was bored when he didn’t have other horses in his line of sight. Once you moved him to the middle of the pack, he was fine, his ears pricked up, and his attention focused. I think he was a daydreamer.

Hoof problems


Several hoof problems could cause a horse to stumble. Horses need their hooves trimmed regularly. Trimming is usually done every six weeks. A good farrier should balance a horses’ feet when he maintains them either with trimming or corrective shoes.

While a lot of the hoof doesn’t have any feeling, some parts do. An inexperienced farrier may nail the shoe on too high, causing nail bind. A rock can bruise the frog, the center part of the hoof, or an abscess may have developed.

Abscesses aren’t always obvious. To check for one, lift your horse’s foot, and apply pressure to the sole of the animal’s foot with your hoof pick. When you hit a sore spot, the horse will react to a stone bruise and abscesses. Sometimes leg injuries cause a horse to stumble.

Unconditioned horse

Like humans, horses need to learn things. A horse that is still in training, perhaps only green broke, will often stumble when ridden. The horse has to learn how to carry themselves, the tack, and the passenger.

Part of it is developing muscle tone. That’s often why a horse that hasn’t been ridden for a while might stumble. Think of a horse as an athlete; without exercise and conditioning, the horse will be a little off.

If your horse has been on a break, be sure and take it easy, working it back into condition. I usually spend a week walking my horses that are coming back from a lay-off.

In the second week, I’ll introduce short periods of jogging and slowly increase their activity over the next six weeks. Horses are individuals, and no plan is set, so you need to monitor your animal as you increase their fitness level.

Poor conformation

Conformation issues are a problem for many newbies when they are choosing a horse. It is one of the main reasons it is good to take an experienced rider with you when selecting a horse.

Conformation refers to the animal’s framework. Some breeds conformation is different than others, but there are ideal anatomical structures for each. A horse with feet turned out or has conformation problems.

Most horses have one or more problem areas in their conformation without affecting their ability to travel or run. However, some may seem minor but cause severe issues when carrying a rider.

Which ones and how bad they are will be deciding factors in whether or not the horse can be safely ridden. In this area, training is of extreme importance. While you can’t train out a conformation flaw, you can exacerbate it by improper training.

Joint problems

If you are an older reader, you may understand this issue better than a child would. Age, riding style, and other issues can lead to problems with the horse’s joints. Concussion, aka impact when the horse is ridden hard, can be a significant cause.


Chronic pain

Whether it’s a joint or not, horses can have chronic pain just like humans can. In many cases, it is a joint, or it is a hoof problem. Sometimes a farrier can help relieve the pain with special shoes. Sometimes the farrier can’t. It’s the same with the vet. There are some treatments, but they may or may not work.

Damage to the nervous system

A lot of things can damage the horse’s nervous system. Some diseases can, as can eating some plants. Yellow starthistle leads that list, though there are others. Most often, the damage is through injuries.

The nervous system includes the brain and all of the nerves that branch out from it. If the spinal cord is injured, it could lead to stumbling issues, as could an injury to the head. You can check your horse for particular nerve injuries when grooming.

Daily grooming has many benefits. It gives you time to bond with your horse, helps teach it to stand still, but, most importantly, allows you to check the animal for injuries.

Suppose you’ve checked for injuries, and your farrier finds the animals’ feet are in good shape. In that case, equine neurological disorders, such as equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or West Nile virus, could be the culprit.

These neurological disorders are hard to detect and treat. They can become serious issues if left untreated, but when caught early and treated appropriately, some horses fully recover.

How do I find out what’s causing my horse to trip?

A horse that stumbles frequently isn’t just a danger to itself. It’s a danger to the rider and those who may be around it as well. A stumble can lead to a fall, and that leads to rider injury and/or death. Therefore, finding and eliminating the cause is imperative.

There are two people to talk to first. Your farrier may be able to find the cause if it is hoof related. The farrier may also correct the problem by trimming or making shoes that take care of the need.

For example, a green broke horse needs to have lighter shoes than a more experienced horse might need. Stout shoes are going to be hard for the youngster to get used to. If there is a problem with hoof conformation, the farrier may be able to correct that.

The second person to contact is your vet. That will rule out (or in) many of the other problems mentioned. It could be as simple as an incorrectly fitting tack or something more serious. The vet may want x-rays to see if there is a hidden injury.

Once those have seen the horse, you should have some idea what the problem is. Whether there is or not, you will probably want a trainer at least briefly to help with the issue. The trainer will work not just with the horse.

Whatever the problem is, how you ride may make it worse. That doesn’t mean you are a lousy rider; just that changes need to be made for the safety of both you and your horse. As mentioned above, the problem could be a need for scenery to change.

The proper riding posture is also essential. If a rider tends to lean forward all of the time, it can create difficulties. A horse should carry most of the weight on its hindquarters. The front should only carry forty percent. Problems can also occur if the rider tends to lean to one side.

A horse and rider have to be a team for the safety of both. If your horse has a stumbling issue, it’s essential to address it today. Tomorrow may be too late.

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