Question: I have a mare I have been riding since July. She was out of shape when I started riding her and I built her up by riding just a little bit more each time. In the past couple months she keeps falling on her knees at a walk for no reason. What would cause a horse to do this? It’s very dangerous so I am not riding her any more until I find out what is wrong with her. I don’t know much of her history but I really love this horse. What can I do for her?
Answer from April Reeves: Many things come to mind for this symptom.
Firstly, any pressure on the brain can cause these symptoms. Only a vet could discover whether or not the mare may have a tumor or some reason for any pressure. I hope this is not the case, but only a vet can diagnose this.
Or: is the mare part Quarter horse? Even if one of her parents were part quarter horse, your mare may have been passed on the HYPP gene. While stumbling is not a prominent sign of HYPP, it has shown up to be one of the symptoms.
Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis – an inherited disease of the muscle caused by a genetic defect, characterized by intermittent episodes of muscle tremors, shaking, trembling, weakness, collapse, and stumbling.
It began from the Quarter Horse stallion ‘Impressive’, where all tests for HYPP done on various lineages traced back to Impressive lines only. If your mare has any trace back to Impressive, regardless of how far back, this gene can carry forward. Being farther back on the breeding line does not dilute this disease, as the gene is dominant.
You would only know if your mare has this gene through a blood test.
Horses tend to begin stumbling when arthritis attacks the knee joints, but this was so sudden I don’t feel it could be a possibility.
This is when the shoulder muscles begin to atrophy die to nerve damage. Again, it would be a slow gradual build to the stumbling, not a sudden onset.
Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis
EPM – this is a neurological disease from Opossums (not all opossums carry this). Their feces may contain sporocysts (cysts that contain spores) that can be ingested by the horse through grazing and feeds. The horse begins to stumble or show signs of lameness. If it’s untreated, the horse may be unable to stand or swallow. It is fatal. If treated late, the horse could suffer permanent damage.
Your mare may be suffering from azutoria or tying-up. I would like to know what you feed her on a daily basis, if you don’t mind sending me that information, along with amounts and times. She may be on too high a phosphorus to calcium ratio, or on too high a potassium feed like alfalfa. Do you feed her oils, soybean meal or molasses? Some horses are affected by feeds more than others, just like people.
Have her eyes checked. Cataracts and infections could cause her to lose sight, which could make her stumble.
The navicular bone is a small bone in the hoof area. It is held in place by ligaments and dense connective tissues. The deep digital flexor tendon glides against the navicular bone, on it’s way down to connect to the coffin bone. Between the flexor tendon and navicular bone is a lubricant substance (bursa) that guards against damage and wear. Although navicular disease is tough to diagnose, aging horses (who have been worked hard in their lifetimes) tend to come up lame mysteriously, as often the bursa simply wears out.
This can be a lengthy and expensive diagnosis, involving x-rays and nerve blocking.
Some horses are more prone to navicular disease, due to breeding and genetic makeup. You can treat the symptoms of the disease with Bute and other drugs, but you can’t change the underlying pathology. Corrective shoeing has also helped alleviate the pain.
As far as training goes, in all my years and thousands of horses, I have never had a horse fall to its knees consistently. This alone suggests your problem is internal, and not an issue of training. I hesitate to recommend any new training regime for her.
Some of the gaited horses can have a tendency to stumble, especially those that are high headed and tend to ‘crack’ or hollow their backs while riding. Sudden consistent stumbling does not fit this explanation though.
Saddle & Cinch – she may have a pinched nerve from an improper saddle fit. Check your fit by referring to the Western Saddle Fitting article on the blog. Another problem could be your choice of cinch or girth, and how tight it is. You should also check your saddle pad for wear or bumps, and make sure you buy a good one.
Who to Call
Canada has a great health and nutrition specialist, Marijke van de Water, founder of Riva’s Remedies. You may call her toll free at 1-800-405-6643. She may have encountered this problem in her many years of diagnosing problems, and you may find it is just a feed problem. She has helped thousands of horses all over the world.
All of these above may only be possible problems, not definite. Without really knowing the horse’s history, or knowing her daily care routine, it is very difficult for me to make any accurate statements. It would be my strong recommendation that you call a vet.
I suggest calling a vet immediately for any circumstance that is life threatening, dangerous, unusual, or untreatable by the owner. Most owners can deal with scratches and light cuts and abrasions, so keep a good first aid kit around at all times.
I would also like to know what you feed her and her schedule, and any photos you may have of her.
Response from Owner:I have a scheduled visit from my vet on the 15th. It’s not an emergency so I just asked her to check her thoroughly when she does the shots for the other horses. She is a Missouri Fox Trotter and such a wonderful riding horse. She is so willing and will do anything for me. I have papers on her so doubt she has any quarter horse in her.
Feeding… I feed her twice a day about 2 cups of Purina Senior feed. She is 17 years old. I give her also a scoop of source in the morning and when I first got her I gave her beet pulp because she was very thin. She gets some alfalfa pellets for treats from time to time but not on a regular basis and is on regular coastal hay.
The fact that she didn’t do this when I first got her makes me think it’s something I have been doing. I have never had a horse that falls on their knees like this either. I switched to a Weaver Smart cinch so I could be cinching her tighter than I used to. I don’t have a lot of pictures but would send one if I knew how to attach a picture. Thanks so much. I appreciate any help I can get.
Response from April Reeves: I’m so glad you have a vet coming. Let me know what the results are.
I see no problem with your feeding regime. I think we can rule that out.
Sometimes these problems are solved by working through every angle we can find, eliminating each one until we find the source.
A poor fitting saddle will pinch nerves that could cause her to lose her balance or cut off circulation in the front end. How you could find out is to either ride her bareback for about 10 rides, or try a different saddle. Because she is older, she may have developed this nerve damage over time.
Your vet can discover this through nerve blocking, where they freeze each area of the suspected region, in this case the top of her front legs, up through her scapula and withers. Your vet will have other methods of diagnosing her as well, but you can talk to him/her about this.
To rule out the saddle, you can only test others and record the results. I never tighten a cinch very tight unless I am on a trail ride or jumping/reining/cutting. I can always get two fingers in the cinch and pull back the cinch about one inch. I also go through a process of stretching the front legs after the saddle is secured.
Missouri Fox Trotters are lovely horses. I have had the pleasure to ride one during a clinic in California, and she was just beautiful. Their personalities are sweet and they seem to be very curious. Our barn has a Tennessee Walking Horse, and she is very interested in everything around the barn, but not in a ‘hot’ way.
I have found that many of the older gaited breeds do show odd signs of lameness later in life, but a little extra care and TLC, they will last will into their late 20’s and 30’s. She may only be half way through life! I am glad she is with you now. She has found her home.
Response from owner: I do appreciate all your help. I will wait and see what the vet says before riding her again but will try a different saddle and a looser cinch. I may have been making it too tight. I really hope she is alright as she is my dream come true in a horse and I absolutly love her. You are awesome!!