There are lots of ways a horse can go lame. Perhaps the
most common cause of lameness is a result of Navicular Syndrome.
The fortunate thing is that it can be treated where the horse
gets complete, successful recovery if diagnosed and treated
in it’s early stages. Here’s what you need to know about Navicular
First, there is a small bone between the coffin bone and
the short pastern bone called the navicular bone. This bone
is important in that it distributes the horse’s weight between
the coffin bone and the short pastern bone. The result is
that it reduces the stress on both the coffin bone and short
pastern bone when the foot lands to the ground and weight
is put on it. (Even though the rear feet have navicular bones,
it is the fore feet that are most often affected)
The navicular bone also works with a tendon called the “deep
digital flexor tendon.” This tendon flexes the coffin and
pastern joints. It also absorbs shock when the hoof strikes
the ground. When the flexor tendon moves, it slides over the
cartlidge-covered navicluar bone which lowers the work load
of the tendon when the foot moves.
Thus, when the horse’s foot lands to the ground there is
a lot of force on the navicular bone. As the horse’s weight
is transferred over the foot, the bone is pushed against the
tendon. When this happens repeatedly, then damage to the navicular
bone and the tendon can occur.
One thing that can happen is the cartlidge can lose its slippery
surface and friction can develop between the navicular bone
and the tendon. Then the tendon can become rough and make
the sliding motion on the navicluar bone even worse. This
ultimately leads to pain for the horse and worse, lameness.
Worse, the blood flow to the navicular bone and the tendon
could be decreased and it may not heal.
How can you tell if your horse may have navicular syndrome?
One is he may not want to change leads. He may lose his suppleness
or perhaps have a stiff and jerky gait. As this gets worse
the may show lameness where you may see short stride in one
or both front legs. The horse will purposely try to step on
his toe portion of the foot because the pain will be in the
back of the foot. Thus, you will see his toe is worn more
than any other part of the foot.
This condition will more easily show up in hard-working horses.
It also is more apparent when a horse works in tight circles.
When he is moving in a straight line it is not as apparent.
The lameness seems to almost disappear when the horse is at
rest. It will reappear when it is working hard again.
How do you treat navicular syndrome? First, begin early.
The horse owner is responsible for recognizing there may be
a problem. If there is a problem, then the veterinarian and
the farrier should be called so treatment can begin. The treatment
consists of corrective trimming and shoeing, pain relieving
and inflammation decreasing drugs, and carefully controlled
Interestingly, treatment for navicular syndrome may be quite
different from veterinarian to the next. They will not necessarily
prescribe the same treatment.
Exercise is one of the most important parts of the treatment
because it increases blood flow to the horse’s foot. But remember
that the exercise has to be carefully done.
What horses are the most likely to have navicular syndrome?
Hard working horses like race horses, cutting, reining, calf
roping, and barrel racers. They are especially more likely
to get navicular syndrome if they work on hard surfaces and
have poor conformation.
Navicular syndrome is most common in horses with upright
pasterns. Navicluar syndrome is also common in horses when
the hoof and pastern slope at different angles.
As a horse owner, you should know that improper trimming
and shoeing can also cause navicular syndrome. If the farrier
trims a heel too low on a horse with an upright pastern it
can increase the pressure where the flexor tendon and the
navicular bone meet.
Thus, be watchful of your horse. If you see something out
of the ordinary when you ask your horse to work hard you may
begin by looking for navicular syndrome since it is the most
common cause of lameness in horses. As always, consult your
veterinarian for diagnoses and treatments.
About The Author
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author
of several best selling horse training and horse care books.
For information visit his website at www.horsetrainingandtips.com.
He is also the leading expert on Jesse Beery's horse training
methods which ca