While no horseowner wants to hear a diagnosis of Navicular, treatment options offering hope are available.
HHH: Navicular is lameness associated with the navicular bone or surrounding structures. Often difficult to diagnose and treat, navicular can be brought on by reduced blood supply and repeated trauma, or arthritic changes to the bone. It can also result from inflammation in the bursa, a small sac filled with synovial fluid. Warmbloods and horses with an ill-formed forelimb are more likely to develop navicular issues, as are horses stressed from overwork, or those subjected to quick braking and turning (roping, racing, barrel racing, and cutting). Horses with small feet apply more pressure to the navicular bone because there is less area to distribute the weight and concussion.
HHH: When signs of lameness are present consult your veterinarian to test the hoof. Hoof testers can be applied over the frog area of both the front and hind feet to determine if any painful flinching is present. Your vet may recommend drugs to increase blood supply, or suggest surgery to relieve the pain by severing the nerves. I do not recommend a posterior digital neurectomy due to risk that the horse will become less sensitive to pain and create a more serious problem.
HHH: Improper trimming and shoeing can contribute to navicular disease. Navicular problems can be caused by any type of shoeing that interferes with the normal action of the frog and quarters. Heels that are too high or too low break the axis of the pastern.
HHH: When diagnosed early, corrective shoeing may be the most effective method of controlling the severity and progression of navicular stresses. An experienced farrier can reshape your horse’s feet over time. Depending on the initial hoof shape, a good farrier can apply custom shoes to properly balance and gradually reshape the foot to eliminate the problem. Also consider neoprene pads or shoes for high concussion absorption.
HHH: Common causes of Navicular Bursitis:
1. Misalignment of the leg bones creates a change in stride and flexor tendon stress. Tendonitis develops which leads to navicular bursitis.
2. Especially when left untreated, inflammation or tendonitis in the deep digital flexor tendon running down the back of the cannon bone and attached to the navicular bone, can spread to the navicular bursa.
3. Inner muscle shoulder inflammation can create pain when the horse picks up his feet, changing his stride, which causes his feet to become sore from the additional stress force. The shoulder muscle must be relieved to improve the hoof.
HHH: Early detection, removal of stress from the hoof, and proper nutrition are vital. If the navicular bone is eroded, it is generally assumed that it can never be restored to its normal condition. X-rays can be helpful for diagnosis, but do not always show signs of disease in the bone because they usually appear in the later stages. X-rays will, however, confirm if a fracture is present.
HHH: Treat navicular first with balanced nutrition, followed by detoxification to cleanse the body and optimize assimilation: “Bone Up” from Riva’s Remedies (1-800-405-6643 www.rivasremedies.com ) can be combined with Vitamin C to support hoof structure and connective tissue. Recognized as a whole food, organic equine micro minerals ( www.enviromin.com ) support detoxification and naturally restore balance.
Navicular bone changes can be supported with chiropractic adjustments to the coffin bone. Treatment of point PC9 by a professional acupuncturist will support navicular needs. Homeopathy assists early stages of pain with Arnica montana (3X per day @ 30C), or if symptoms follow an illness or virus try Hepar sulfuricum (3X per day @ 30C). For degradation of the navicular bone use Calcaria fluorica (3X per day @ 12C or 30C) and when the deep digital flexor tendon is suspected with navicular bursitis use Ruta graveolens (3X per day @ 30C).
HHH: Herbs also provide the nutrition necessary for navicular support. To speed up healing and avoid calcification, start with arnica topically to the hoof to begin assisting blood flow. If you have access to fresh comfrey, make a poultice of comfrey leaves mashed in linseed, held with a bandage, and changed every 3 days minimum. Also feed three young shoots or one leaf of comfrey daily along with a tsp. of kelp to aid healing. Additional herbal support is available in Silver Lining’s #12 Feet Relief to address nutritional needs for the bony structure of the feet while also strengthening ligaments and tendons in the lower extremities. Silver Lining’s #37 supports kidney detoxification.
HHH: Address pain and inflammation while avoiding excessive Phenylbutazone. Routine usage of chemical medicines is almost always detrimental to your horse’s long-term health. Look for an alternative Herbal Bute such as that made by Equine Science. Herbs to address pain include devils claw and white willow, both of which also address inflammation, as do cats claw and meadowsweet. In cases of fever, the meadowsweet and white willow also help reduce fever.
HHH: Specifically support circulation to the hoof area. Hawthorn herb aids circulation, as does buckwheat which also strengthens and repairs blood vessel walls. A combination of nettle (to oxygenate blood) and Rosehip, which has Vitamin C plus blood and circulatory support (increasing blood to your horse’s hoof), can make all the difference in long-term recovery.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
1. Early on, the horse will be lame after hard work but return to normal after rest. There may be a slight “cold” lameness that disappears with exercise.
2. Over time, pain, usually in the front feet, accompanies lameness that gets progressively worse.
3. To avoid painful frog pressure and weight on the heel, the horse lands toe first when in motion.
4. The horse has a choppy gait, stumbles often, has shorter strides and takes longer to stop.
5. The horse may shift his weight continuously while standing.
6. The horse may stand with the feet extended forward, or point the most severely affected hoof forward while at rest.
7. Lameness may be obvious only when the horse moves in a tight circle.
1. NEVER exercise on hard surfaces.
2. If your horse shows any signs of lameness, no matter how slight, avoid jumping and galloping.
3. Do not expose young horses to strenuous exercise before their bones are developed.
4. Maintain healthy weight (of both horse and rider) to ward off additional stress.
CASE REPORT: Shorty, an 8-year-old Paint (pictured), is in obvious pain. X-rays revealed shattered Navicular bones, a result of excessive daily work at a Texas cattle ranch. After Shorty’s shoes were removed, his stance improved immediately. Rehab included occasional boot use, natural supplements, and open pasture grazing for a year. A year and a half after beginning his treatment for Navicular, Shorty is free of pain and without re-occurrence.
Shorty’s protocol included:
- regular farrier trims (every 4-6 weeks)
- bar shoes briefly, followed by complete removal of shoes and temporary use of boots
- a non-grain diet (THRIVE) + open pasture grazing (no fresh green grass)
- 2 scoops Herbal Bute daily for 2 months, along with 2 scoops of Cipex, 2 scoops Glucosamine Sulfate (shark cartilage powder), and 2 scoops Special Joint Blend (chondroitin sulfate, MSM, yucca) then intermittent for another 2 months
- occasional round pen work, no hard riding and open range free roaming on 100 acres for a year
Shari Frederick, BS, NMD, LE, a nutritional educator, assists horseowners in making healthier, more natural choices in horse care. She is an independent author, international lecturer and self-styled naturalist. At her Happy Horse Haven Rescue in Texas, detoxification and liver/kidney/immune supports are the FIRST steps in rehab for nearly every arriving horse. Visit Shari’s websites, horserescuefaces.com, healthyhorsehints.com, or check out Shari’s Healthy Horse Hints at holistichorse.com
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