What is Navicular Problems?
The most common cause of locomotor lameness in horses is found in the navicular area of the horse’s hoof. The “hows” and “whys” of navicular problems are often written-off as “un-known”. I have decided to write this article to clear up the confusion that is commonly spread about this problem, which has grown to epidemic proportions. I will define navicular problems, discuss how and why they exist and give advice on preventing and treating these problems in your horse.
Navicular Problem Symptoms:
The terms “Navicular Disease” or “Navicular Syndrome” are often used to define navicular problems a horse may have. However, neither of these terms should be used to define navicular problems. Using the word “disease” has never been justly defined when referring to navicular problems. Navicular problems are not a disease, they are man-made. The word “syndrome” is defined as: a commonly recurring group of symptoms of unknown cause. The cause of navicular problems IS known, and therefore, the word “syndrome” also is not a correct identifier. So, for the purpose of this article, I will use the term “navicular problems” throughout.
Navicular problems are completely man-made through improper trimming, short-term or long-term shoeing, and/or inadequate natural environment throughout a horse’s life. This improper care can cause problems in the navicular area of the hoof, not to mention a plethora of problems within the entire horse.
The navicular bone has two main functions:
The navicular bone is located directly behind the coffin bone, held in-between the short pastern and coffin bone by tendons and ligaments.
1. To protect the joint and tendons from pressure and concussion. The deep digital flexor tendon connects at the coffin bone, runs under the navicular bone and up the back of the horse’s leg. The navicular bone acts as a pulley on the deep digital flexor tendon, which takes a sufficient amount of stress off the coffin bone by absorbing a majority of it.
2. To act as a valve for blood flow to the coffin bone and corium in the hoof. With each foot-fall in a properly maintained hoof, the navicular bone helps to turn-on and shut-off blood flow into the coffin bone and corium. With poor hoof care (specifically high heels, overlaid bar, long toes or shoeing), the navicular bone becomes immobile which results in poor blood flow within the hoof. The navicular bone plays a large role in the overall health of the hoof, and of the whole horse.
It is a very common health care problem.
Horses at high risk of navicular problems are usually confined or stall-kept, while at the same time having strong physical demands placed on them. Horses with high or underslung heels and/or horses that wear shoes (whether short-term or long-term) are at a very high risk.
Navicular problems are not hereditary. However, many horse-people may be lead to believe that navicular problems are hereditary when horses of the same breeding have been kept under the same or similar lifestyles and/or blood-related horses which have been cared for similarly. Do not mistake this for a hereditary weakenss.
In conventional treatments, navicular problems are temporarily “hidden” to preserve the horse’s usability. The underlying problem is not addressed. When the pain from navicular problems can no longer be hidden through “therapeutic shoeing” or by cutting nerves, ligaments or tendons in the horse’s foot, euthanasia (death) or a drugged-up retirement are most often prescribed without hesitation. However, this does NOT have to be the end to your horse’s life or career.
Studies show that horses stay healthier when in a natural environment, including 24/7 turnout with free-choice hay/grass and herdmates to encourage regular movement. The main treatment and prevention of navicular problems is to provide the best possible hoof care for your horse on a frequent schedule (every 1-4 weeks). Hoof care is one of the most important aspects of horse care that is too often overlooked by horse owners. Have you heard the saying “No Hoof, No Horse”? It is positively the truth. Why leave your horse’s life and health in the hands of someone else? Every horse owner or caretaker should fully understand hoof mechanism, proper trimming and how it effects the horse’s entire body, health and longevity.
Navicular problems is in no way a death sentence or a reason for painful retirement. Treating the problem with a proper natural lifestyle and a physiologically correct barefoot trim will prevent navicular problems in horses, and is known to reverse the effects of navicular problems in horses that have had these problems short- or long-term.
Trimming: For information and education on natural barefoot trimming for treatment of the navicular horse, I highly recommend the 2-day clinics run by United Horsemanship. The clinics are held all over the US, you may be able to find one in your area!
Shoeing: Shoes are a definite road-block in the prevention and healing of a horse with navicular problems and should not be used. See Living Requirements For Horses for a list of damaging affects horse shoes have on a horse’s overall health and longevity.
Neurectomy, Desmotomy and other “conventional” treatments: The act of severing nerves, tendons or ligaments, or injecting drugs into the hoof may cover-up the signs of navicular problems short-term, however this is not guaranteed. Once the effects of these barbaric surgeries and “treatments” wear off, the horse is is much worse shape.
Why not address the source of the problem (improper hoofcare and/or lifestyle) and treat it by providing a natural environment and a physiologically correct trim? There is no need to perform these horribly invasive conventional treatments on any horse.
Work diligently with a natural hoofcare technician or specialist to begin restoring your horse to soundness, or to prevent lamenesses from the start.