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Signs of Navicular Disease

Navicular disease is somewhat of a mysterious condition among horseowners. They may walk to their barn one day to find a horse that is sitting on his haunches and appears to be in enormous amounts of pain. Or, they may notice that their colt in race training tends to slow halfway through the workout. Owners of pleasure horses may not even realize it until one day the horse is unwilling to move forward and stumbles through gaits that it once performed with ease. These horses are often feeling a burning pain due to the increased bloodflow in their hooves and the shifting of the coffin bone.

If the hooves are not properly trimmed on a regular basis, the horse is more susceptible to suffering from navicular due to abnormal growth of the hoof. The hoof grows and wears in accordance with the footing that the horse is kept on. The bone may become immobile and cause poor circulation in the hoof. In extreme conditions, the coffin bone will slowly sink to the floor of the hoof and may pierce the bottom of hoof. The condition usually occurs only in the front feet and generally affects both feet. Horses that are at a high risk are those that are stall-kept and have strong physical demands such as being overweight or those horses that are not conformationally correct.

Quarter horses tend to be prone to the condition as well as Thoroughbreds, who tend to have small feet in proportion to their bodies. Navicular has been diagnosed in horses as early as one year, so even a young yearly is susceptible if their hooves are not properly cared for if they are allowed to consume to much grain in a short period of time. This may happen on farms that try to rapidly grow their young horses for sales, show, races, etc. The condition is gradual and causes progressive lameness in the front legs. Navicular is hard to detect early because the condition worsens over time. Often horses are found with severe lameness from navicular one day because they have not been showing symptoms until it has progressed to the extent that the horse is put in extreme pain.

Signs of Navicular Syndrome

Horses place their weight on their toes to avoid placing pressure on the heel while walking. The heel becomes inflamed in the bone and the bursa. The bursa is the outer lining layer of the bone.

Heels are contracted and smaller due to poor confirmation.

Shortening of stride

Shifting of body weight when resting

Stumbling gait

Uneveness in turns

Reluctance to go forward or lengthen stride

Resting with weight resting on the toe

When pressure is applied to the hoof; the horse will indicate heel pain

Sitting back on hind legs to avoid pressure on front feet (also common in horses that are foundering)

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