Ask a Farrier: I Think My Horse Might Have Navicular Syndrome. Are Our Riding Days Over?

woman on horse by hills - ask a farrier - my horse has navicular - are my riding days over

Navicular syndrome is a tricky one to diagnose because it's vaguely defined as degeneration of something in the navicular area of, more often than not, front hooves. That could be the tendons or ligaments, the bursa or the navicular bone itself. It's usually caused by wear and tear, similar to how humans can suffer from arthritis or tendinitis or osteoporosis.   

I have good news and bad news. I always prefer bad news first, so here goes. Navicular syndrome isn't curable, but there are lots of ways you can keep your horse comfortable and sound for many more years. You might never win another jumping or reining competition, but you will probably still be able to hop on and go for leisurely rides. The key here, as with most hoof problems, will need to be teamwork. Your vet, farrier and you.

Diagnostics and Treatments

Your vet will probably want to do X-rays or an MRI to find out exactly what's degenerating. Once they've narrowed it down, there are lots of things they can do to help ease the pain, ranging from pain killers to nerve blocks to joint injections.

Depending on where you are and what kind of budget you have to work with, you might be able to take advantage of more cutting edge therapies. Shockwave therapy, bisphosphonates or interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) therapy have all been shown to be effective in certain cases, but your vet will need to figure out what's happening in the navicular area before they can make any recommendations.

Maintenance for Navicular Syndrome

Your farrier will need to trim or shoe the horse to make him more comfortable. This usually involves wedge shoes or pads. If you're just trimming, make sure to leave as much heel as you can and bring the toes back. This will help the horse's break over and ease the tension in the deep flexor tendons.

Your horse will probably need to be trimmed or shod more often than normal to keep the right angles and balance in the feet. This is up to you to watch how the hooves are growing and call your farrier before the hooves get too long. You could add extra supplements to your horse's diet to help. 

A bit of exercise is good for the horse, as well. Don't overdo it, though. Even slow walks on soft ground will help with blood flow and get more oxygen to the hooves. You'll notice the horse's stride will probably be shorter than normal and sharp turns might make him uncomfortable. Just take it easy until you see him moving around more soundly.

This is our monthly feature, “Ask a Farrier,” a Q and A with farrier Karen McMann. Karen has been a full-time farrier for 19 years. She graduated in 2002 from the Canadian School of Horseshoeing, where she studied under Pat Cullen. She serves on the Advisory Board of Equi-Health Canada and Equi-First Aid USA as a Farrier/Hoof Health Support specialist. Karen lives and works outside of Okotoks, Alberta.

If you have a question you’d like to ask a farrier (about horseshoeing, farriery, hoof and horse health, blacksmith tools, working as a farrier, etc.), email or leave it in the comments below. Every month, we’ll pick one question to answer in our feature.

Image credit: Taylor Brandon


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