Can a horse with navicular be ridden?
And what is the dreaded navicular anyway?
A diagnosis of this disease strikes fears in every horse owner and with good reason.
But it no longer means the end of the road for a horse, so let’s find out some more.
Table of Contents
What is Navicular Disease in Horses?
Navicular disease centers around the navicular bone, which is a small bone located in the hoof.
It is not one specific thing but several conditions that cause pain in the structures of the foot.
Today, it is more common for vets to refer to it as a navicular syndrome because of its fairly broad number of factors.
What is the Navicular?
The navicular is a small, fairly flat bone that sits behind the coffin bone. It connects to two different bones, the pedal bone and the pastern joint. It is connected by the impar ligament and the suspensory ligaments.
With the suspensory ligaments the navicular acts as a pulley. It also has a pocket of fluid which provides cushioning.
What Causes Navicular in Horses?
Even though navicular syndrome is one of the more common equine ailments experts still do not know the precise cause.
Theories say that it is possible that injury to the navicular bone can lead to a reduction in blood supply.
Trauma or excessive strain of the deep flexor tendon, the impar ligament, or the suspensory ligaments that are attached to the navicular bone can also cause pain stemming from the area.
Too much strain of stress on the structures involving the navicular bone leads to irreparable damage to the bone and ligaments.
Horses with poor foot conformation or bad farrier care that allows the hoof to get too long will increase the risk as this adds to the stress.
What is interesting is that navicular disease is one of the most common chronic causes of a lame horse but it is extremely rare in ponies. It is also more frequent in performance horses.
What is known, is that navicular disease is degenerative and lasts the lifetime of the horse once it starts. It almost exclusively happens in the front feet, usually both, but it can be just one.
Check: Best Horse Soaking Boots
Signs of Navicular in Horses
Horses with pain in the navicular area of the foot will show certain clinical signs.
This includes bilateral lameness (lame in both front feet), stride shortening, especially when the horse first starts moving, and a toe stabbing stride, which is done to relieve pain in the foot.
Treatment for Navicular in Horses
Sadly, there is no cure for navicular. However, it does not mean you can never ride the horse again.
With good management, a horse can enjoy many years of ridden activity. To manage navicular syndrome requires a joint effort between a vet and a farrier.
With better technology now available for vets, such as MRI machines designed for horses it is no possible to get a much clearer picture of what is happening inside the hoof. This allows for better treatment options.
The use of MRIs has allowed vets to see that navicular syndrome is the result of several injuries going on inside the foot that is causing the problem. Years ago, this wasn’t possible.
X-rays will also be used but these are limited to just showing boney structures, so the vet cannot get the full picture of what is going on.
Navicular disease in horses treatment includes the use of Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like bute but this cannot occur long term as it can damage the digestive system and the kidneys.
Another treatment is the injection of corticosteroids into the coffin bone initially. This has shown an improvement in soundness in 33% of horses for at least 2 months.
If coffin joint injections don’t help enough, the vet can inject the navicular bursa, which has shown success in 80% of horses, lasting for a 4 month period.
You might be asking why vets do not go to this type of injection first if it is so successful?
The reason it is a last resort type of treatment is that greatly increases deep digital flexor tendon ruptures if it is done repeatedly over time.
One last resort, risky treatment is palmar digital neurectomy. This surgery cuts this nerve, so essentially the horse can no longer feel the pain coming from its foot.
However, it can cause the formation of a neuroma, which is very painful.
It can also cause deep digital flexor tendon ruptures. It is not a great idea to bring these horses back into high levels of work.
Unfortunately, it has been seen that these horses can suffer catastrophic lower leg injuries, which put the rider and horse at great risk.
Your vet might also consider the use of Tildren or Previcox. However, do take care with Tildren, as while it can be effective its use can have some undesirable side effects such as signs of colic.
The most successful treatment is a combination of remedial shoeing for navicular, some pain killers, and the judicious use of injections.
Let’s have a look there on the video that what professionals are talking about
Corrective Shoeing for Navicular
Specific trimming and shoeing are essential for managing navicular.
Make sure you work with a farrier that is an expert in this type of work. They will also have to work alongside the vet who will have images of the inside of the hoof.
The purpose of therapeutic shoeing is to relieve pressure on the navicular region in the hoof.
This will hopefully decrease the pain. Several things go into this farrier process.
First, the farrier will trim the foot to create good hoof balance.
They will then raise the heel by using flat or wedged pads. The farrier might also raise the heel by making a wedged shoe.
In addition to trimming and wedges, the toe will be rolled, further taking pressure off the navicular. The most common type of shape that the farrier will put on is an egg bar shoe.
Can a Horse With Navicular Be Ridden?
Yes, some horses with navicular can be ridden. It depends on how severe it is and requires careful management.
But keep in mind that the syndrome is a chronic and degenerative condition. There will come a point at which the horse will have to retire from riding.
To help keep a horse comfortable for riding, make sure you also manage its weight and only ride on good surfaces, avoiding uneven ground.
Plenty of turnout and light work such as walking is helpful at keeping a horse sound enough to ride as it increases blood flow to the hoof.
Some horses with navicular will no longer be able to jump due to the extra stresses this puts on the feet.
For turnout and riding with corrective shoes, it is a good idea to use bell boots for horses. Egg bar shoes are much larger than standard shoes, and therefore much easier for the horse to catch them and pull them off.
Also, because of these shoes make sure to use horse protective boots, such as brushing or tendon boots to protect the legs from knocks.
RELATED: Does Horseshoe Hurt the Horse?
For more information about navicular, I’ve put together a few common questions for you.
At what age do horses get navicular?
The most common age for navicular to appear in horses is from 4 to 15. It shows up most frequently amongst Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Warmbloods.
Can horses recover from navicular?
Unfortunately, horses cannot recover from navicular. It gets worse with time but can be managed so that the horse can live a happy life with as little discomfort as possible.
Are there navicular horse supplements?
Some supplements might provide support to horses with navicular. Medical supplements that you can only get from a vet, such as Legend or Adequan can help relieve pain and increase joint lubrication. You can also try oral joint supplements that include glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin, Boswellia, and yucca.
With a better understanding of the navicular in horses, it is possible to provide the horse with the supports it needs to be comfortable. This also means that many of these horses can take part in riding activities.
The main takeaway is that these horses need a lifetime of careful management. Always discuss with the vet about making the decision to ride a navicular horse.
- BELKNAP.JAMES;BELKNAP.JAMES. 2020. “Navicular Disease in Horses.” Veterinary Manual. MSD Veterinary Manual. 2020. https://www.msdvetmanual.com/musculoskeletal-system/lameness-in-horses/navicular-disease-in-horses.
- DYSON, S., R. POOL, T. BLUNDEN, and R. MURRAY. 2010. “The Distal Sesamoidean Impar Ligament: Comparison between Its Appearance on Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Histology of the Axial Third of the Ligament.” Equine Veterinary Journal 42 (4): 332–39. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00068.x.
- “Impar Ligament Injury Can Cause Lameness in Performance Horses | AAEP.” 2019. Aaep.org. 2019. https://aaep.org/node/34671.
- “Navicular Syndrome in Horses.” 2021. Vca_corporate. 2021. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/navicular-syndrome-in-horses.
- “Special Feature | Podotrochlosis: ‘Navicular Syndrome’ Is No Longer the End of the Road for Horses.” 2021. The Horse. June 17, 2021. https://thehorse.com/features/navicular-syndrome/.
Is there something I have been missed? Please tell in the comments if you want me to cover that as well.
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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