It’s normal for a horse to trip or stumble every once in awhile. Just like us, sometimes they take a misstep, especially if the ground is rough or uneven.
But if stumbling in the arena or on the trail is becoming a regular occurrence, your horse is in need of help. First, rule out any physical problems that could be making your horse trip such as poorly trimmed feet, soreness and lameness issues or EPM. (EPM, or Equine Protozoal Myeleoncephalitis, is a neurological disease that often causes horses to lose coordination and stumble.) Once you’ve done that, then the culprit of the problem usually lies in a lazy horse not paying attention. And like everything we do with our horses, the more you let them trip, the better they get at it, and soon it becomes an ingrained habit.
No matter what you’re doing with your horse, he’s responsible for his feet – where he places them and how fast he moves them. Stumbling is a sure sign that your horse is letting his mind wander and not concentrating on the task at hand. If he’s not paying attention, you’re going to give him a reason to. When he stumbles, immediately pick up on one rein, thump his belly with the heel of your boot or roll your spur up his side and bend him around in a circle, hustling his feet. Make it clear that he needs to wake up and pay attention. If he ignores your leg, spank his hindquarters with the end of your mecate or a dressage whip. When he’s moving with energy, is alert and focused on you, put him on a loose rein and go back to what you were doing. It’s important to put your horse on a loose rein so that you dare him to make a mistake. Get out of the habit of babysitting him and trying to micromanage his every step. Put him on a loose rein and let him commit to the mistake. If he trips again, repeat the same steps. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. As long as he’s paying attention to where he’s placing his feet, you’ll leave him alone. But if he chooses to get lazy and let his mind wander, you’ll wake him up and make him feel uncomfortable by hustling his feet.