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365 Days in Horse Country – Navicular Disease

Blog by Michael Stuart Webb | November 13th, 2013

365 Days in Horse Country – Navicular Disease



The Navicular is a small bone in the horse’s foot that can cause big problems in horses.  Horses with navicular, as the disease is known, become unsound in the front feet, suffering pain in the hooves.

Navicular is a common cause of lameness in horses.  It appears to develop as the result of several factors, including inflammation of the bursa, located between the navicular bone and the tendon of the deep digital flexor, and decreased blood supply to the navicular bone, which causes it to degenerate. 

It’s unclear why this happens, but veterinary researchers believe the condition might, to some extent, be hereditary.  Horses that are most prone to navicular are mature riding horses and racing, cutting, and roping horses, in particular those with abnormal conformation of the front feet and legs.  Usually both front feet are affected, although one may be worse than the other.

Navicular is diagnosed through observation of the horse’s physical signs, such as lameness.  Horses with navicular tend to place their weight on the toe so as to avoid the pain caused by putting pressure on the heel.  They also frequently shift their weight.  These habits can indicate the presence of navicular.  The veterinarian can confirm the disease through the use of hoof testers and nerve blocks.

There is no cure for navicular, but certain treatments are available to manage the disease for a period of months or years.  Medications that reduce pain and inflammation and increase blood flow to the navicular bone can help keep a horse comfortable.  Corrective shoeing helps as well.

Some horses suffer severe pain from navicular.  In these cases, the veterinarian can perform surgery to cut the nerves in the heels that supply the navicular area, preventing the horse from feeling any pain.  This technique can have complications, however, and it should be used only as a last resort.