Last Updated on February 26, 2023
A diagnosis of navicular in horses is never what a horse owner wants to hear. But is navicular the end of the road, or can a horse with navicular be ridden?
Navicular disease is a condition that has caused negative connotations and fear for decades. More common in older horses, the navicular syndrome has long been considered to be a career-ending situation. This has often led to horses being retired from ridden work at a younger age than hoped, and unfortunately, many horses are euthanized following a diagnosis of navicular disease.
But, thanks to recent veterinary studies and innovative treatment techniques, this may not always be the case anymore. Every situation is unique and every horse is different, but there are some circumstances where navicular disease can be managed sufficiently for a horse to carry out the light-ridden exercises.
Navicular disease in horses cannot be cured; it doesn’t ever go away. But, if the condition is maintained and treated properly, the horse may be sound and even rideable for years after the original diagnosis.
Today we’re going to be taking an in-depth look at navicular disease in horses, including whether a horse with navicular can be ridden.
Navicular in Horses: What is Navicular Disease?
Navicular disease is a condition that normally develops in a horse’s front foot. It can also develop in the hind feet, but these situations are scarce. Navicular disease is typically a result of continued stress and concussion on a horse’s feet and is common in horses that have long or flat feet.
The Horse (.com) defines navicular disease 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.”
Can You Cure Navicular in Horses?
Navicular disease in horses cannot be reversed or cured. However, the correct treatment and management can help to reduce levels of pain and inflammation, keeping the horse more comfortable. A great place to start if you fear that your horse may have navicular is a soundness examination.
With a soundness exam, your veterinarian can see to what extent the changes within the navicular bone and surrounding structures have caused your horse to become lame. They will also be able to assess if the sole cause of the lameness is navicular, or if there are other issues also contributing to the pain within the hoof.
Helping a Horse With Navicular
If your horse has been diagnosed with navicular syndrome, there are ways to treat this condition and keep your horse more comfortable. Some of these include stall rest, shock wave therapy, and changes in farrier care.
A key contributing factor in navicular disease is excessive concussion to the hoof, and keeping the horse off the hard or rough ground can help keep it sound. For example, if you live in a dry region where the horse’s turnout consists of hard ground, instead of soft, grassy pasture, then more exposure to this condition could make a horse’s navicular worse.
In this situation, your veterinarian may advise stalling rest, in a comfortable, bedded stall. This can help keep a horse free from pain, and also stop the navicular changes 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 disease.
Your veterinarian may also recommend that medication of the joints in the horse’s hooves is carried out. This involves injecting steroids and other drugs directly into the joint, to help repair damaged cartilage. The effect of this treatment is normally very good and will reduce the level of lameness considerably, however, it is not a permanent cure.
One of the most critical factors in caring for a horse with the navicular disease is regular attention from a specialist farrier. They will work alongside your veterinarian to help correct any imbalances in your horse’s feet, helping to ease the pain of navicular disease and prevent the condition from worsening.
Farriers can add padding between the horse’s foot and the horseshoe, helping to reduce concussion to the hoof. They can also change the angle of a horse’s foot to put pressure on different areas.
Special kinds of horseshoes can be used on horses with navicular disease to help ease their pain and keep them more comfortable. These shoes aim to reduce the pressure on the navicular bone sufficiently to ensure the horse feels less pain.
Can a Horse With Navicular Be Ridden?
Before you decide to ride (or not to ride) your horse with navicular disease, it is vital to first consult your vet. Many different factors contribute to a vet giving the green light to ride a horse with navicular disease. And, just because your horse looks comfortable walking around the field, this does not mean he can be ridden.
Whether a horse with navicular can be ridden depends on what type of riding you plan on doing. Will you be riding your horse in a grassy pasture, or will you be riding your horse on cement or tarmac roads? Will you be jumping your horse over fences, or will you be trotting over cross poles?
Whether a horse with navicular can be ridden 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 and body condition score? Does your horse have arthritis?
And finally, it will also depend on how advanced your horse’s case of navicular disease 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 horse.
But, if your horse’s navicular disease is not too severe, and no lameness can be seen after a period of treatment, then there is a chance you could ride him.
Can a Horse With Navicular Jump?
For a horse with navicular walking, exercise should be fine, as long as the horse is not lame. Gentle walking can help to keep your horse fit and healthy, as long as your veterinarian has given you the go-ahead.
But what about more strenuous exercise, such as jumping?
If you get the green light to ride your horse following a diagnosis of navicular disease, there will likely be conditions. These will depend on the severity of your horse’s condition and the level of lameness.
A diagnosis of navicular disease will likely mean no jumping and no riding on hard surfaces. You may only be able to do 15-20 minutes of gentle walking exercise, perhaps with an occasional short trot.
As a general rule, you should never 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 altogether. 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.
What is The Best Feed for Horses With Navicular?
When feeding a horse with a navicular, there is no particular type of food that will help to ease this condition. The most important thing for your horse is that you keep it at a healthy body weight, and carrying out regular body condition scores can help with this.
There are certain navicular horse supplements on the market which may help to ease the pain of navicular disease. Look for herbal supplements which help to ease inflammation and joint supplements which can help cartilage to regenerate. Although none of these supplements will cure your horse, they can help to keep him more comfortable.
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 horse. A horse that is lame or in pain should never be ridden, and it is unlikely that you will be able to do high-impact activities such as jumping.
Certain treatments and management strategies can help to keep your horse more comfortable following a diagnosis of navicular disease. Avoiding hard ground, regular corrective farriery, and specialist feed supplements are all ways to ease the pain of navicular disease in horses.
We hope that this article helped you better understand if and when a horse with the navicular disease can be ridden! If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences of caring for and riding horses with navicular disease!
What to do with a horse that has navicular?
There is no cure for navicular disease in horses. To help alleviate the pain, corrective trimming and shoeing can be used to ensure that the horse has a correct foot balance and level foot fall. 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 softer 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 some of his athletic function and may 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 hoof growth in order to rebalance the foot. 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?
Navicular disease is a progressive syndrome; it normally 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.
Buying a horse with navicular disease is a gamble, and you may end up with a horse that can never be ridden. Many horses with navicular disease are retired from ridden work and are loaned out to be used as a companion for other horses.
Can you reverse navicular?
Navicular disease in horses won’t heal with rest, and it is not possible to reverse changes to the bone. It is possible to improve the symptoms for a while by utilizing therapies such as remedial farriery and feed supplements. However, many people find that the symptoms return as soon as the horse goes back to work and starts repeating the same moves.
The treatment of navicular disease in horses 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 inflamed and painful, leading to severe lameness.
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.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.