No farrier wants to have a tough client conversation about how rider error may be impacting a horse’s behavior. And when you have to be blunt and explain how rider error rider is the cause, it’s time to bring your “diplomatic skills” into play.

Bob Smith says most riders don’t recognize they may play a major role in a stumbling situation. The owner of the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in Plymouth, Calif., says something as simple as allowing the horse to drop its head below the withers often leads to stumbling. When this happens, the horse will become too heavy on the front end, which delays breakover, and causes the foot to stay low to the ground during the cranial phase of the stride.

Carrying too much weight on the front limbs can also delay breakover. To perform to the best of its ability, Smith says a horse should not carry more than 20% of its bodyweight in the form of rider and tack pounds.

Other stumbling concerns that can be due to the rider include using the wrong bit, riding on unfamiliar or rough terrain or having vision concerns when a horse walks too close to the horse just ahead of them during a trail ride.

While it’s easy for horse owners or trainers to blame stumbling concerns on the farrier, Smith says it’s seldom a shoeing problem. In fact, trying to fix the problem with a shoeing solution may worsen the situation.

Farrier Takeaways

  • Most riders don’t recognize they may be part of a stumbling problem.
  • Stumbling and tripping are among the scariest concerns for riders.
  • Total weight of rider and tack should not equal more than 20% of the horse’s bodyweight.

Manage The Conversation

Smith says having an uncomfortable conversation about stumbling due to rider concerns is among the toughest challenges facing farriers. While such conversations can be touchy, Smith has found young riders are more receptive to a discussion of their riding skills than older riders with years of horse ownership and riding experience.

When determining the best strategies for talking about stumbling, Smith suggests working these half dozen ideas into the conversation:

1 Your ability to control your business (clients, horses, etc.) is directly related to your knowledge of the foot. With this knowledge, you have the ability to fully explain the stumbling situation and how to prevent it.

2 A horse’s conformation dictates the horse’s movement.

3 A horse with poor conformation will move poorly, often leading to unfortunate gait abnormalities.

4 A horse with poor conformation and a poor rider will only worsen the gait abnormalities.

5 The faster the horse travels, the more traction and/or weight of the shoe will influence the arc of flight.

6 Conversely, the slower a horse travels, the less impact weight and/or traction of the shoe will have on the arc of flight.

“Without a thorough understanding of the relationship of conformation to movement, any client discussion about their horse’s gait becomes less meaningful,” says Smith. “It’s important to educate yourself thoroughly in the variety of conformation faults.”

Smith says criticizing a horse’s conformation will only lead to an adversarial dialogue that is not beneficial to the horse, client or farrier. His suggestion is to make the client part of the team that solves any gait concerns.

“Let them know saddle fit, back pain and joint problems create gait issues,” he says. “Talk with the client and ask questions to get a complete history of the horse and the gait problem.”

19 Questions To Ask When Stumbling Is A Worry

Here are suggested questions from a recent email survey of farriers that need to be answered when rider error may be causing stumbling problems.

1 How long has the horse been stumbling?

2 Does the horse frequently stumble in week 6 or 7 of the shoeing cycle?

3 Does the horse tend to stumble at the end of a trail ride or riding lesson?

4 What is the ground like where the horse is ridden? Is it rough or unfamiliar? What’s the depth of the arena surface?

5 Does the horse stumble only on trail rides, but not in the arena?

6 Does the horse stumble for the rider, but not the trainer?

7 Does the problem just occur with one or more gaits? Predominately with a right or left lead?

8 Does the horse tend to pull around on their front end?

9 Is the rider getting the horse around well enough in the hind end? Is the horse dragging its hocks?

10 Is the horse carrying too much weight on the front limbs, which can lead to a delay in breakover?

11 Does stumbling occur when the horse is worked in circles or straight lines?

12 Does the horse stumble when grazing? With or without tack? Under saddle or not?

13 Is there a lack of drive from the horse being too heavy on the front end?

14 Here there been any significant changes in the horse’s daily routine?

15 Do the rider and horse pay attention to what’s going on around them?

16 How experienced is the rider?

17 Are there concerns with the way the saddle, bit and other tack fit the horse?

18 Does the horse have vision problems when walking too close to other horses during a trail ride?

19 What are the horse and rider doing when stumbling occurs?

Ask The Right Questions

Josh Cotton says stumbling and tripping are among the scariest concerns for riders, but most owners are receptive to being asked for details about the situation. “These questions most often lead to the understanding that more effort should be given by all involved parties to get more and better hind-end engagement,” says the Lyle, Wash., farrier.

He says it can be a challenge to communicate your thoughts without insulting the rider. The message often needs to be that a horse, which is prone to stumbling or tripping requires an active partner on its back and not just the added awkward extra weight of a half-hearted passenger.

Richard Bumpus asks client to describe stumbling problems in detail. The Preston, Idaho, farrier tries to get the rider to think things through on their own by providing valuable information in the questions that he asks.


Here are several more ways to gain more insight into the role of rider error in regard to stumbling.

  • Compare notes with a number of farriers who shared stumbling management ideas in a recent AFJ email survey.
  • Check out “12 Reasons Why Stumbling May Not Be A Horseshoeing Problem,” an in-depth article that appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of American Farriers Journal.

Download both items from the AFJ website by visiting

Scott Chandler wants to see the horse being ridden to determine if it is the animal or client who is causing the stumbling problem. Having trained horses, the Ocala, Fla., farrier can easily recognize when stumbling is the horse’s fault.

When the rider is the cause of stumbling, Britta Stoffel explains how riding lessons can help the situation and let the horse become more balanced. The farrier from Laendlerhof, Germany, says the specific tact and language to use depends on the client and his or her relationship with the farrier.

“If they don’t like the truth, I can’t help,” says Stoffel. “There’s always the option of trying another farrier. If they still have the same problem and get
the same answers from another farrier, they might start thinking in the
right direction.”

This Time, Mom Was Wrong

Heidi Larrabee cites an example of the rider vs. stumbling situation with a Tennessee Walker in her Palmer, Alaska, practice. It started when a client told Larrabee how her horse stumbled and dropped to its knees.

To overcome the concern, Larrabee made hoof angle adjustments, which the rider said made the problem worse. At the next shoeing, Larrabee shortened and rockered the front toes.

The lady called within the week, said she was really scared and wouldn’t ride the horse. When Larrabee revisited the barn, the Mom wasn’t there, but her daughter was. Having the daughter put the horse through its paces, there wasn’t a missed step in 10 minutes of intensive round pen work.

A few days later, Larrabee went back to watch the mother ride the horse. Within the first 10 feet of starting out, the horse fell to its knees. Yet when Larrabee had the daughter ride the horse, it never stumbled or missed a beat.

The mother recognized she was the problem. After taking riding lessons and learning to relax, the horse started to move fine when ridden by the mother.

“Check everything you can because sometimes what we do is not what causes the problem,” says Larrabee. “The riding lessons helped the mother learn to relax. She and the horse are now riding the trails just fine.”


September/October 2017 Issue Contents