Why Does My Horse Stumble?

Possible Causes of Stumbling and Tripping

Riding in balance with your horse helps prevent stumbling. Thinkstock/Getty Images

Does your horse stumble while you ride or drive it? All horses stumble occasionally, just as we trip over our own toes sometimes, for no reason at all.  Horses can stumble or habitually trip for a number of different reasons. The most common reason is similar to why we take a  misstep  if the ground is rough, slippery or uneven. Some horses are more 'trail wise' then others and know how to keep their balance over rough terrain.

Others have to learn this.



If your horse is disinterested in his work or if he’s tired he may stumble. Muscle fatigue can cause stumbling and foot dragging. This is more common in unfit horses, or young horses. Young horses, unused to carrying a rider may be unbalanced and stumble. This will stop once the horse understands how to balance the load he is carrying. 

A horse may trip more often with an unbalanced rider. A good rider can help their horse keep their balance, especially where the going gets uneven.  Improving your riding skills and becoming more fit yourself can help prevent tripping and stumbling.   

Saddle Fit

Sometimes poorly fitting saddles can cause back pain that leads to stumbling. Assess your saddle fit, or consult with a saddle fitter so your horse is more comfortable. Poor saddle fit is responsible for all types of problems, physical and behavioral.



Horses that travel with their heads up and backs hollowed may be more likely to stumble.

If your horse carries his head to high, he may not be able to balance or even see where to place his feet.

Consider taking a few lessons to see if you can correct any bad habits you might have formed and learn to help your horse carry a rider comfortably. 


Conformation dictates how your horse uses its body and legs.

Some conformational defects may predispose a horse to stumbling. Long pasterns, bench knees, and other leg problems can cause a horse to be a habitual stumbler. 

Hoof Care

Be sure your horse’s hooves are trimmed regularly and that they are trimmed properly. If the hooves are grown out too far or the toes are too long, your horse may be tripping over his own toes. Have your blacksmith assess the angles he is trimming the hooves and the type and weight of shoes if your horse is shod. 

Serious Causes

More serious physical problems can include joint, muscle and nerve damage such as:


  • Arthritis – inflammation inside a joint causing pain and stiffness. Generally all joints will be affected. 
  • Navicular Syndrome – degeneration or damage to a small bone inside the hoof. Fronts are most often affected, and the lameness is more obvious. 

  • Sweeney – nerve damage that causes the shoulder muscles to atrophy. Sweeney is most commonly seen in driving horses and can be caused by the pressure of the harness on the shoulder.

  • Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis– nerve damage in the spinal column due to protozoa.  This is a serious disease some horses never recover from, and it can make them unsuitable to ride. 

  • Eyesight – cataracts, eye infections and other eye/vision problems. 

  • Ring bone or side bones – boney growths on and below the pastern area. These can make a horse lame, or slightly 'off'. 

There are lots of reasons a horse might stumble. If it happens consistently your veterinarian and blacksmith should be able to help you find and solve the problem.