Cross-firing

Also Known As

Leg interference

Description

Cross-firing refers to the diagonal interference of the legs when the horse is working at a fast pace, although it is sometimes evident at slower paces. For example, the right hind foot hits the inside of the left front leg usually up high in the area or the knee, or the diagonal front leg hits the inside of the hind leg, usually at the hock. It may be due to "unsoundness" in the horse or "frequent interference."

"Frequent interference" can be the result of faulty conformation of body and legs, the tiring of the horse, or improper shoeing. In the case of conformation, specialized shoeing may be implemented to deal with the problem, as well as the use of various leg protective devices or bandages to protect the legs from injury.

"Unsoundness" refers to a state of injury which eventually causes lameness. The horse is in pain because of the injury that often involves strained stifle joints or ligaments and is compensating for the injury and pain.

Abusive or poor riding and improper handling of the horse may also lead to walking and running irregularities, including cross-firing, as the horse attempts to compensate for lack of balance and muscle control. Pain resulting from poor saddle fit and other equipment problems can also cause cross-firing problems.

Symptoms

  • Diagonal interference of the legs with the right hind leg/foot hitting the inside of the left front, or the diagonal front leg hitting the inside of the hind leg.
  • Wounds to the legs where the diagonal leg/hoof hits the other leg/hoof

Causes

"Leads" are defined as the way the four legs work together for smooth, sustained movement of the horse whether walking, trotting, cantering or running. Horses have two leads, right and left--which refers to the leg with which the horse leads when walking, trotting, cantering or running.

When the horse cross-fires, it means that the horse is on two leads: the front two legs are on one lead while the back two legs are on the opposite lead instead of moving in a synchronized way. Lack of balance and muscle control are the main reasons for cross-firing which may occur either occasionally or consistently.

Improper balance and lack of muscle control may be the result of pain from injury, improper alignment of the horse's body, improper shoeing or saddle fit, poor or abusive riding skills on the part of the handler, and/or improper training of the horse.

Prevention

Since cross-firing is the result of improper lead changing by the horse, proper training is of paramount importance in preventing this problem. The horse should first be examined for soreness, injury or evidence of pain. A physical examination by a veterinarian or an equine chiropractor can rule out improper alignment of the horse's body or legs.

When it is confirmed that the horse is free from physical ailment or discomfort, and this would include a proper fitting saddle and attention to any other tack that might create physical discomfort, it is time to put the horse through exercises that will lead to proper coordination of the legs.

Proper cueing of the horse by the rider will go a long way in preventing cross-firing. Teaching the horse simple lead changes before expecting him to understand and do more difficult lead changes is important.

Working the horse without riding him by either free-lunging the horse or working him on a lunge line can be a good start, but sometimes a special device will be needed if the horse has developed a habit of cross-firing consistently.

Treatment

The first thing to look for if a horse begins cross-firing is soreness or pain which might cause the horse to compensate for a wounded limb, thereby losing coordination and balance. Shoes and saddle should be checked for proper fit and changes made if either contribute to discomfort or draw the attention of the horse away from the task at hand.

Working with the horse to practice proper lead changes while moving from simple lead changes to more difficult ones will help the horse develop proper habits. Working the horse without riding him by either free-lunging or working him on a lunge line can be a start, but sometimes a special device or rigging will be needed if the horse has developed a habit of cross-firing consistently. Local tack stores will have equipment that serve this purpose. .

Training exercises should be done consistently, usually beginning with the front legs first. To change leads in the front legs, first at a lope, cue the horse or turn the horse with the inside rein when the front legs are just coming off the ground so that he reaches for the new lead. As his hind legs come off the ground, cue the horse with leg pressure to reach with his off hind leg and change that lead.

Now, back legs first: In lead changing the back legs first, apply leg pressure to the horse's side when the front legs are on the ground and the hind legs are coming up. The horse moves away from that leg pressure and reaches with his rear legs, changing them first. As the rear legs hit the ground and the front legs are elevated, turn the horse in the direction of the desired lead for the lead change in front.

Simultaneous lead changes (front and back) can be accomplished by applying leg pressure and turning the horse with the reins simultaneously in the flying stage of his movement. This should be done immediately after the leading leg comes off the ground.

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