Navicular Disease is Curable and Preventable in Most Horses, Here's What You Need to Know...

Navicular disease is not really a disease at all but is usually lameness caused by inflammation of the tendon and tissues near the Navicular bone. The tissues in this area can become inflamed when the Navicular bone rubs on the Deep Flexor Tendon, which uses the Navicular bone as a fulcrum to help flex the horses hoof.

The chief cause of Navicular disease is neglected or poorly trimmed horses feet, which results in unnatural hoof balance placing undue pressure on the bones and supporting structures of your horse’s hooves. When the bones and structures of the horse's foot start to realign and adjust due to the imbalance and unnatural mechanics, the Navicular bone begins to rub on the Deep Flexor Tendon causing inflammation and the lameness and pain that come with it.

Navicular Disease

This illustration shows the structures of the hoof and lower leg. You can see where the deep flexor tendon and navicular bone are located. When the tissues that surround, lubricate and protect the tendon and bone become inflammed the horse becomes lame or is said to have Navicular Disease. The tissue that surround the Navicular bone and lubricate the bone and tendon area are called Navicular Bursae. See Hoof Anatomy for more information on the structures that make up the hoof. Inflammed bursae is known as bursitis (yes like humans have), in this case Navicular bursitis.

A hoof tester is often used to diagnose Navicular disease and when the frog of the horse is squeezed the horse will flinch and try to pull his foot away. The frog area will be very sensitive since the Navicular bone and tissues lie just above the frog near the hair line. Care has to be taken to not miss diagnose Naviclular disease for Thrush (click here for more information on Thrush) which also effects the frog but is a bacterial infection of the frog area and can cause lameness but has nothing to do Navicular disease.

Testing for Navicular Disease

When testing for Navicular a hoof tester is normally used to put pressure on the Frog. When the Frog is squeezed the horse will feel pain and usually flinch or move.

A horse with Navicular will not want to put weight on the heels of his feet and will try to carry his weight on the toes of his foot which can lead to additional hoof problems and lameness.


The horse's foot must be balanced to cure Navicular Disease. Until the horse can begin to walk with a heel first landing and stand with weight on the heels of his feet, he can't fully recover. In other words, your horse needs to put weight on the heels and frogs of his feet, the parts of his feet which are the most sore before he can begin to recover.

Often Navicular horses will have gone for long periods of time with heels that have been allowed to grow too long or have been left shod too long. Any physical feature which keeps the frog and heel of the hoof from contacting the ground can increase the risk of Navicular Disease. Soft ground also contributes to Navicular. Your horse needs to have a balanced trim and be allowed to travel over rough hard ground to build and strengthen the hoof especially, the frog which helps prevent Navicular, as well as, helping to heal and rehabilitate the Navicular horse.

Following the 6 steps of the bare foot trim and the rest of the practices described in horse hoof care is the best way to rehabilitate the Navicular horse.

In addition, to the bare foot trim if your horse is already Navicular he will likely need hoof boots, padding taped to the bottom of the foot or soft ground to begin walking comfortably. When you first apply the bare foot trim to a Navicular horse he may become even more lame. (Because the trim balances the hoof causing him to apply more weight to the the frog and heel area of the foot.) This is where a hoof boot, padding or soft ground may help in the recovery process. However you choose to "help pad the feet" remember your horse cannot recover or grow stronger without gradually putting more weight on the back of his foot and eventually traveling over rough hard ground with a heel first landing.

The sooner your horse puts weight on the back of his feet and begins moving the quicker he will recover. The frog has to become stronger and the only way it can or will is for your horse to use it. The more it is used the stronger it becomes. As the frog becomes stonger the Navicular horse will recover. The more movement your horse has during the day with a properly balanced foot the quicker the recovery will be. Moving as part of a herd over natural terrian is often the best way to speed recovery, with padding if necessary to get your horse moving comfortably. The good news is the vast majority of horses can fully recover from Navicular with proper horse hoof care.

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