Improving Horse Stumbling
My new horse, Moxie, came fresh off the track where she likely never encountered uneven ground, rocks, hills, logs, etc. Her new job is to be an endurance horse where she will traverse varied terrain at speed. When she first arrived at our farm she was stumbling over every dip in the ground, rock, or stick.
I already had ground poles and logs on my track paddock for the horses to step over. I wanted to take it a step further for Moxie to really help her learn to pay attention to where her feet are. I set up ground poles in the dry lot between her stall door and the track gate. She had no choice but to walk over them. I started with them spaced out pretty far so she would have time to recover in case she trips. After a few days I moved the poles closer together. The next step was to lay them all around in a haphazard manner. Then I started raising one end of a pole. The picture below shows how far she has progressed. She now confidently picks her way through this mess of poles, and hasn’t knocked a pole over or around in a week. She doesn’t seem to even think about it anymore, she cruises through on autopilot, at a nice brisk walk, never a wrong step. I switch up the poles every few days to keep her guessing, but I think she’s mastered it now.
This will really pay off in speeding her progress to becoming a sure footed trail horse.
Of course, if your horse is tripping frequently you’ll want to rule out physical causes such as long toes. However, in the case of the simply inexperienced, careless, or lazy horse, this strategy can help quite a bit and with very little effort. Stepping over ground poles or cavaletti can also help strengthen the core and topline muscles, since the horse has to engage their core and lift their back with each step. Win win!
When Moxie is ready to tackle similar exercises under saddle, we will start cavaletti work and do mini jump courses with ground poles. That really helps teach the horse to pay attention not only to their feet, but also to the rider’s cues.