Navicular Syndrome

Most veterinarians and farriers agree that navicular-type lameness is the foot’s response to stress, particularly repetitive stress that can put uneven pressure on different parts of the horse’s foot.

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Are America’s horses getting lamer? Are we asking too much of them? Are they just not building (or breeding) them the way they used to? Call it what you like, but an epidemic of navicular-type lameness problems is sidelining an alarming percentage of our performance horses, causing early retirements, drops in performance levels, hard-to-measure pain and suffering for horses, and concern from owners.

The best treatment for a navicular-type lameness is avoiding it in the first place. The basic rules for healthy hooves and feet are simple: Hire the best farrier you can (interview several, ask about experience with lameness, and check references, specialized education, and certification levels) and keep the horse on as short a shoeing schedule as you can afford, even if the horse seems to grow wall slowly. Keeping the foot properly balanced and the shoe in the right position on the foot goes a long way toward helping the horse stay at a mechanical ideal.

When buying a new horse, you can obtain and keep radiographs from the pre-purchase examination. (The veterinarian owns the originals.) Mark the envelope with the horse’s name, veterinarian contact information, and the date the radiographs were taken. Note which views of which feet were shot. These radiographs will become your reference tools in the event of any future foot problems.

In addition to good basic shoeing that will keep the foot supported and protected, your horse’s feet will benefit from optimum nutrition. Many owners now feed hoof supplements containing methionine and biotin as a preventative aid, even to sound horses or horses with ideal hoof quality. Likewise, when a horse is heavily worked, shown at a high level, or advancing in age, owners might decide to add chondroitin sulfates and/or glucosamine to the daily feeding regimen. These products are believed to help the horse replenish spent joint fluid or enhance the joint fluid so that the horse enjoys maximum flexibility. Remember that the navicular bone is in the midst of the coffin joint, a complex, three-way junction among the short pastern bone, coffin bone, and navicular bone

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Written by:

Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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