Horses with Navicular- Can They Be Ridden?

Last Updated on March 19, 2022 by Urska

A diagnosis of Navicular in horses s is never what a horse owner wants to hear from a vet.  It’s a condition that has caused negative connotations and fear for decades. More common in older horses, Navicular syndrome has been seen as a career-ending situation.

But, thanks to increasing veterinary discoveries and studies, this may not always be the case anymore.  Every situation is unique, and every horse is different. But, there are some circumstances where navicular can be maintained at a healthy level.

Navicular cannot be cured; it doesn’t go away.  But, if the situation is maintained and treated properly, the horse may be sound and even rideable for years after the original diagnosis.

In this article, I’m going to be talking about what situations may lend themselves to having a rideable navicular horse.

Navicular in Horses: What is Navicular?

Navicular is a condition that develops in a horse’s front feet.  It can develop in a horse’s hind feet, but those situations are extremely rare.  It is typically a result of continued stress on a horse’s feet and is common in horses that may have long or flat feet.

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The Horse (.com) defines Navicular in the following words: “Veterinarians believe navicular disease in horses is caused by mechanical stress and strain due to the constant pressure between the navicular bone and DDFT, which leads to the degeneration of those and other structures that make up the podotrochlear apparatus. Poor foot conformation, such as a long toe and low heel, increases this stress and might potentiate the development of the condition.” 

Navicular in Horses: Can you “Cure” Navicular?

As stated above, Navicular cannot be cured.  However, it can be treated and maintained.  A great place to start if your horse has been diagnosed with Navicular (or if you fear that your horse may have Navicular), is a soundness exam.

With a soundness exam, your vet can see to what extent the Navicular has caused your horse to become lame.  Sometimes, the sole cause of a horse’s lameness is Navicular, sometimes it might be Navicular mixed with other things like Arthritis or short feet, and sometimes it may not be Navicular at all.

Helping a Horse with Navicular

But, if it is Navicular syndrome, there are ways to treat a horse and keep it comfortable.  Some of these include stall rest, shock wave therapy  and changes in farrier care.

Sometimes, keeping a horse off the harder ground can help keep him sound.  For example, if you live in a dry region where the horse’s turnout consists of hard ground, instead of grass or dirt, then more exposure to this condition could make a horse’s Navicular worse.

So, sometimes stall rest, in a comfortable, bedded stall, can help keep a horse more comfortable, and keep the Navicular from getting any worse.

A popular new technique in equine physical therapy is shock wave therapy.  Shock wave therapy can help a horse’s entire body, and it can help alleviate some of the pain horses may be feeling from Navicular.

Sometimes, farriers can add padding between the horse’s foot and the horseshoe.  They can also change the angle of a horse’s foot in order to put pressure on different areas.  There are also special kinds of horseshoes that can be used on horses with Navicular in order to help ease their pain and keep them sound.

Navicular in Horses: Riding a Horse with Navicular

Before you make the decision to ride (or not to ride) your Navicular horse, consult your vet. Always, always, always consult your vet.  Lots of different factors go into a vet giving the green light to ride a horse with Navicular.

It depends on what type of riding you will be doing;  will you be riding your horse in a grassy pasture, or will you be riding your horse on cement roads? Will you be jumping your horse 3 foot, or will you be trotting over cross poles? 

It also depends on your horse’s overall health.  Are there other conditions your horse is suffering from? Is your horse an advanced senior? How is your horse’s weight? Does your horse have arthritis?

And, it depends on how advanced your horse’s case of Navicular is.  If your horse is still lame after attempting some of the above-listed treatments, then there is a good chance your vet is not going to give you the green light to ride your Navicular horse.

But, if your horse’s Navicular isn’t too far along, and it is helped by the treatments, then there’s a chance you could ride him.  It all depends on the circumstances.  

If you get the green light to ride your Navicular horse, there will likely be conditions.  Obviously, whether you follow these conditions or not is up to you. But, it’s common for a vet’s diagnosis to be riding, with limitations.

Navicular in Horses: Riding a Horse with Navicular

Maybe this will mean no jumping or no riding on the roads.  This may mean only 20 minutes of work or only walk-trot work.  And, it’s likely that these conditions will change over time, along with the severity of your horse’s Navicular.

As a general rule, you should not ride a horse that is not sound.  If your horse becomes unsound, even while you are following your vet’s conditions or limitations, then something needs to change.

This might mean your horse needs a re-evaluation from your vet.  Or, it might mean it’s time to stop riding. Whatever the case may be, it is always best to listen to your horse and what they are showing you that they are capable of.

Conclusion

So, yes, it is possible to ride a horse with Navicular disease.  But, it is very important to stay in touch with your vet and to get your vet’s approval before deciding to ride your Navicular horse.  

There are ways to help your Navicular horse relieve their pain and to keep them comfortable.  Doing these things may mean that your horse feels well enough to be ridden and do work. But, it always depends on the circumstances.

I hope this article helped you better understand what goes into riding Navicular horses! If so, please share this article, and share with us your experience working with Navicular horses!


What to do with a horse that has navicular?

There is no cure for navicular disease. To help alleviate the pain, corrective trimming and shoeing can be used to ensure that the horse is at level foot fall and has a correct foot balance. A shoe with a rolled toe egg bar is often used to encourage early break over at the toe and good heel support.
Rolled toe egg bar shoe shoes are traditionally used to add additional stability to the leg and foot. They are used to improve athletic performance and prevent injury. The added ground contact surface provides more traction for the animal by preventing the palmar/plantar section of the hoof from sinking into deformable surfaces.

How long can horses live with navicular?

Navicular Syndrome is an ailment of the foot which can be an ongoing condition for the rest of horse’s life. But with proper care and treatment, a horse can restore his athletic function and stay sound for long periods of time.
When horses begin to develop pain, or if they are already lame, there are some things that can help keep the pain from recurring. Corrective farriery can help keep a horse from having repeat lameness flare ups. A good farrier will also give you an evaluation of the horse’s foot. When horses have navicular syndrome, their feet may have difficulty bearing weight and they may walk in an abnormal gait. The horse may also walk with a very pronounced limp. If a horse has been diagnosed with navicular syndrome, the farrier will usually do some work to remove or reduce excess bone growth in the area of the navicular bone. Meanwhile, it is important to be proactive in managing the underlying cause of navicular syndrome and monitoring the horse’s overall condition.

Would you buy a horse with navicular?

Definitely avoid any horse with navicular unless you in the business of rescuing horses. Navicular disease is a progressive syndrome. Normally it gets worse with time and the chances of full recovery are very slim. If you buy a horse with navicular, you will need to be vigilant in monitoring the horse’s foot for signs of the disease. You will need to make sure that you have a farrier that is familiar with the condition and will take care of the horse properly.

Can you reverse navicular?

The navicular disease, same as arthritis, won’t heal with rest, and it is not possible to reverse changes to the bone. It is possible to improve the symptoms for awhile, but they will return as soon as the horse goes back to work and start repeating same moves.
Treatment focuses on controlling pain, slowing down the progression of the disease, and keeping the horse as comfortable as possible. NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are commonly used to control pain and inflammation. They may be given by mouth, injected, or applied topically. NSAIDS work by inhibiting the action of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase.

How do horses get navicular?

Navicular syndrome is believed to be caused by repetitive mechanical stress on the navicular bone, which results in degeneration of tissues and ligaments in the heel. In horses with navicular syndrome, the tendon of the deep digital flexor muscle (DDFT) is shortened and often thickened. If the condition is not treated, the tendon will become detached from the bone. This results in a “floating” or “free-floating” tendon, which can be painful and may eventually become unsound.
The most common sign of navicular syndrome is a short, thickened, painful tendon. The navicular bone is also affected, with a large, bony growth (osteophyte) on the dorsal surface of the bone.

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