Tripping ... Hooves or Saddle or Both?

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Thought I'd jot a bit about tripping horses.

If someone has ridden for years then, it's most likely, one has encountered the event of a horse tripping. I have a number of times. One event the horse went completely down , caught my ankle between her hip and a rock and totally shattered my ankle and broke my leg. It wasn't her fault. She tripped on a rock and just couldn't regain her balance.

These things happen.

That being said, there ARE ways to prevent a horse from tripping. The first assumption should be hooves - take a look at the horse's hooves to see if the toes are too long.

(image from American Farriers Journal)

What constitutes toes that are too long?

The major weight-bearing of the hoof should be in the rear 2/3rds of the hoof. The horse is not created to land 'toe-first'.  Take a look at the simple illustration below to see how to ascertain the length of the toes and the weight bearing ratios of the average equine hoof.

(PENZANCE Natural Hoofcare,

 A long toed, low heeled horse is more likely to stumble and trip than one whose hooves are in better proportions with the 1/3:2/3 ratio applied during trimming.

Other factors that play into tripping are:

1.  Horse is totally inattentive to surroundings and not paying attention to where he is placing his hooves.

         There is a neat little TTOUCH practice that helps with that. Simply take the butt end of a crop and run it down the horse's leg to the hoof and tap on the hoof 3 or 4 times. Do this to each hoof. You'll find the horse won't be so apt to tick the cavaletti with the hooves or miss a step.  There's also another way to help your horse watch where he is placing the hooves. From Linda Tellington Jones again ... take a tire or milk crate other suitable, raised object and place 3 - 5  poles on the raised object with one end of the poles on the center and the other ends on the ground. Walk the horse, beginning at the ground level, around over the poles. This improves flexibility as well as watching for the placement of the hooves.  (illustration from "A Playground for the Horse", Linda Tellington Jones) Star


2.  The rider is placing too much of his or her weight on the forehand of the horse. (the upper body drops forward, the knee pinches, the lower leg slides back and the rider begins to balance off the hand. Rider climbs so far up the horse's neck that he's on his nose and can't push from his hind end..)

3.  The saddle is placed too far forward on the horse's withers so that the tree of the saddle is pinching on the CN11 nerve as well as the shoulder. The horse cannot move without discomfort and will adjust his entire body to try to evade the pressure. More than tripping, this may very well cause the horse to simply buckle at the knees and go down. I've had a couple of instances where I was girthing up my horse tightly only to have his front knees buckle and he went full down on the ground. That CN11 nerve is among many nerves around the withers. So one needs to be careful of how to place the saddle on the horse's back. It is also just as important to make sure the saddle tree is not pinching the horse's shoulders. The equine shoulder moves back 6 " - 8" when the horse extends the leg out forward. Having the tree of the saddle sit right on the shoulder will inhibit the movement, cause pain as well as other compensatory issues thought the back and hind end.

(Saddle too far forward, The Spinal Vet)

4.  The horse's hooves are hurting! If barefoot, the hooves may be fighting thrush or abscess. If shod, the shoes may be ill-fitted.

5.  The horse only trips going uphill can be indicative of caudal heel pain. (Navicular syndrome).

6.  Leg-joint Arthritis or soft tissue strain (tendon, ligament)

7.  Any portion of the front locomotion system being out of chiropractic alignment.


So, anytime your horse starts to stumble or trip, take a look at the above possible causes. Again, first place to look would be the hooves; 2nd would be the attentiveness of your horse and thirdly, check out the saddle placement and fit.


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoof care for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. You can email to Gwen -- or telephone in the US (774)-280-4227 NEW PHONE). For further information please click here:



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