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How To Exercise a Horse with Navicular: Effective Techniques and Tips

September 26, 2023 4 min read

Exercising a horse with navicular disease can be a challenging task for horse owners and trainers. Navicular disease is a degenerative condition that affects the navicular bone and surrounding structures in the hoof, causing pain and lameness in horses. It is essential for the horse's well-being to maintain physical activity levels while considering the limitations and requirements of this condition.

Understanding Navicular in Horses

Navicular disease, also known as navicular syndrome or caudal heel pain, is a common condition that affects the navicular bone and associated structures in a horse's hoof. It is a significant cause of lameness in horses, particularly those engaged in activities that involve repetitive strain on their feet, such as riding, jumping, or racing.

Causes and Risk Factors

Conformation plays a critical role in predisposing a horse to navicular problems. Horses with small hooves, upright pasterns, or other structural abnormalities may be at a higher risk for developing issues. These characteristics can lead to uneven weight distribution and added strain on the navicular bone and its surrounding structures.

Excessive wear and tear on a horse's hooves can also lead to navicular syndrome. Consistently exercising on hard surfaces may contribute to the problem as it increases the impact on the horse's hooves and its internal structures. Horses that perform demanding athletic activities, such as show jumping or barrel racing, may be more prone to hoof injuries that can result in navicular syndrome.

Another vital factor to consider is a horse's overall health and weight. Overweight horses can place extra pressure on their hooves, making them more susceptible to navicular issues. Ensuring that a horse maintains a healthy weight through proper nutrition and regular exercise is essential in reducing the risk of this condition.

Treatment of Navicular Disease

Medication and Pain Management

One of the primary treatment options for horses with navicular disease is medication to manage pain and reduce inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like phenylbutazone and corticosteroids can temporarily relieve the affected horse. These medications should be administered under the guidance of a veterinarian to ensure proper dosage and monitor potential side effects.

Exercise and Lifestyle Changes

Exercise and lifestyle changes are essential for managing navicular disease in horses. Maintaining a consistent exercise routine can help improve circulation and build stronger, healthier hooves. However, intense or strenuous activities should be avoided to prevent further damage. Low-impact exercises, such as walking and light trotting, are recommended for horses with navicular disease.

Incorporating proper hoof care, including regular visits with a skilled farrier, is crucial in managing the condition. Corrective shoeing can help alleviate pressure on the navicular bone and support the horse's hoof structures. Common types of shoes used for navicular horses include:

  • Wedge shoes: These shoes raise the horse's heels, which can help reduce tension in the deep digital flexor tendon and relieve the navicular area.
  • Eggbar shoes: Designed to provide additional support to the back of the hoof, eggbar shoes help distribute weight more evenly and reduce stress on the navicular bone.

Aside from proper shoeing, horse owners should maintain a clean and dry environment to prevent hoof-related infections that could exacerbate navicular issues.

Surgical Options

In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary for horses suffering from navicular disease. Neurectomy, also known as "nerving," is one of the surgical options available. It involves cutting the palmar digital nerves responsible for transmitting pain from the affected area. While this procedure can provide significant pain relief, it is considered a last resort due to potential complications, including loss of sensation and hoof deterioration.

Another surgical option is the injection of corticosteroids directly into the navicular bursa to reduce inflammation. This procedure should only be performed by a qualified veterinarian and should not be considered a long-term solution.

It is essential to note that no treatment guarantees a permanent cure for navicular disease, and ongoing management is necessary to ensure a horse's comfort and quality of life. By working closely with a veterinarian and farrier, horse owners can develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the individual needs of their horse.

Prevention and Management

Shoeing and Foot Care

Proper shoeing and foot care are crucial in managing horses with navicular syndrome. Therapeutic shoeing aims to reduce stress on the navicular bone and increase heel support. Farriers often recommend shortening the long toe, as it can improve biomechanics. Shoes with special features like frog pads and bar shoes can also alleviate heel pain. However, it is essential to monitor and assess each horse's individual needs carefully.

Routine farrier care is necessary to maintain optimal hoof conformation and balance. Regular hoof care ensures the correct hoof trimming to prevent an imbalance in weight distribution on the pastern joint. It's essential to work closely with an experienced farrier to design an appropriate hoof care program for your horse.

Nutrition and Weight Management

A balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, alongside proper weight management, can help reduce the strain on a horse's front legs. Overly heavy loads can exacerbate heel pain and other symptoms. It is especially important for breeds prone to navicular issues, like Warmbloods and Quarter Horses, to maintain a suitable weight.

Ensure your horse is receiving adequate nutrition through a well-rounded diet that supports overall health and hoof quality. If needed, consult an equine nutritionist for dietary recommendations tailored to your horse's age, activity level, and breed.

Turnout and Exercise Management

Regular turnout and exercise are vital for maintaining joint health and promoting circulation. However, it's crucial to carefully manage a horse's workload carefully, considering the type and intensity of work suited to the horse's current condition. Gradually increasing exercise is recommended to avoid sudden stress on the navicular bone.

Add the support of Benefab Therapeutic Polo Wraps to your exercise routine, a potential aid in managing the challenges posed by navicular issues in horses.

Soft footing is the ideal environment for a horse with navicular issues, as it provides more cushioning for the front legs. Avoid hard or uneven surfaces, such as gravel and asphalt, which can worsen a horse's condition. Monitor your horse carefully during the turnout to ensure they are moving comfortably, and adjust the exercise program as needed.

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