Horse Trips And Falls

My four-year-old Percheron/Thoroughbred gelding has a tripping problem. He has been observed tripping and falling in the pasture and has tripped and gone down with me riding. He has tripped without falling many times in the arena. He has tripped on both front and rear hooves, but mostly on the front. I have not seen much written about tripping issues.

After reading about PSSM I am wondering if this could be a contributing factor. He is an extremely easy keeper. I have started modifying his diet by eliminating the pelleted feed and adding oil, soaked beet pulp, a bit of soaked alfalfa, and minerals. He is on pasture 24/7.

The last time he tripped and sent me flying the farrier happened to be there and observed his action. He said that my horse tended to stab the ground with his hoof instead of flipping it forward. The plan is to put toe-weighted shoes on the front.

It would be great to get input about tripping. Are there any other causes I should be considering’

Horse Journal Response

PSSM is a metabolic muscle disease. The only way to diagnose it is by muscle biopsy, although finding elevated muscle enzymes at rest or an hour after a slow trot for 15 minutes on a longe line would also raise the suspicion. If the tripping was related to PSSM we would also expect to find abnormally stiff/hard muscles, or even muscle wasting and weakness in advanced cases.

There are more common reasons for tripping. Some horses do it out of laziness, but we would not expect the horse to actually trip badly enough to go down if that was the reason.

If he’s falling, neurological disease has to be on the list. The combination of tripping and landing toe first is also highly suspicious for pain in the heel/hind-foot area, or for excessively long toes and under-run heels if they’re causing heel/hind-foot pain.

Feeding fat to an easy keeper when the diagnosis of PSSM is at best questionable isn’t a good idea. What you need is a thorough veterinary examination, including neurological exam and a lameness exam with nerve blocks. Toe weights will usually make a horse pick up their feet higher, but if his toes are too long and his heels under run they will also add to the strain on the back of his foot.

Baking Soda Antacid

Can I use simple baking soda and salt as an antacid and sodium supplement for my horse instead of using more expensive electrolyte and ulcer prevention products’ What dose would you recommend for an adult horse in moderate work’

Horse Journal Response

You definitely can, and should, feed plain salt as your major electrolyte source. Hay is a generous source of potassium, to the point that unless your horse is working for prolonged periods in the heat, or at high speeds, plain salt is probably all you need.

Any horse being regularly ridden should take in 3 to 4 oz./day of plain salt (regular table salt is fine) during hot weather, 1 to 2 oz. in cold weather.

Sodium bicarbonate would work as an antacid, but it’s not palatable in the amounts you would need. For a preventative approach, management changes are the best starting point. The more turnout the horse gets, preferably on pasture, the lower the ulcer risk. Food is also a natural buffer and the horse should have access to hay or grass 24/7 to take advantage of that effect. Never work the horse on an empty stomach. Take frequent breaks to offer hay when shipping or away from home. If the horse had a problem with ulcers in the past, these management approaches coupled with use of an ulcer supplement based on calcium and magnesium during high stress periods should help.


In Wisconsin, there has been ehrlichiosis with very high incidence. It is believed that this is transmitted by the wood tick. Has anyone noticed that the vaccine for Potomac horse fever (Ehrlichi Ristici) bears an uncanny resemblance in name to Ehrlichiosis’ Are the two related’ Are there any benefits from vaccinating for Potomac horse fever that would carry over to preventing Ehrlichiosis’

Horse Journal Response

There are several different species of the Ehrlichia organism. At least two of these can cause illness in horses. One is E. risticii, which causes Potomac horse fever. The other is E. equi (aka Anaplasma phagocytophilia), which causes a flu-like illness and involves the blood cells. E. equi is spread by ticks. E. risticii is spread by snails and water insects, which themselves are infected by their fluke parasites. Horses may become infected with the E. risticii organism by eating dead insects or their droppings when grazing. Leaving lights on around the barn at night can also attract flying aquatic insects, like mayflies, which can then get into the horse’s feed, bedding or water.

There is no cross-protection from vaccines that target one species of Ehrlichia to other species of Ehrlichia. Worse yet, there is no cross-protection between strains in the same species. In other words, the Potomac horse fever vaccine will not protect against E. equi, or even against all strains of E. risticii. Most veterinarians believe this is why the vaccine performs so poorly under real-life conditions.

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