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Should You Buy A Horse With Navicular Disease? Symptoms

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I recently looked at a horse my neighbor was interested in buying. The animal showed signs of navicular disease, which prompted him to ask if navicular would rule out purchasing the animal.

I recommend passing on a horse with navicular disease. It can be a severe and debilitating syndrome that the horse may never fully recover. Navicular syndrome is a degenerative bone disease in the heel of the horse’s feet, typically the front feet.

We all fall in love with a horse because of its color or breeding, but it’s critical to ensure the horse you buy is sound. This article provides a lot of useful information on navicular syndrome so you can make an informed decision on the horse you’re considering.

Why not buy a horse with a navicular disease?

First, you need to decide why you want a horse. If it’s to pleasure ride, trail ride, or compete, then a horse with a foot ailment isn’t what you need. Horses must be sound to carry you.

A foot disease can prevent you from ever riding. Navicular disease is a progressive syndrome with limited chances of full recovery. Unless you’re in the business of rescuing animals, then you should always buy a healthy horse.


Veterinarian services are not cheap, and sick horses typically cost more to keep than healthy horses. Plus, horses with foot lameness often require you to restrict their movement, which could mean staying in a stall for extended periods.

Horses with foot issues will likely need special shoes and require more farrier care than unaffected horses. This is an extra expense that you need to consider.

There are plenty of healthy horses available to choose from, so it’s not prudent to buy a sick horse.

What Is Navicular Syndrome?

You don’t want to buy a sick horse, but what happens when your horse gets navicular disease? This article discusses the basics of navicular syndrome, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

To be precise, navicular diseases refer to the general degeneration of the horse’s navicular bone. This is a small bone at the rear of the coffin joint inside a horses’ hoof. This wearing down of the bone leads causes soreness in the horses’ heel that leads to sluggish movement and lameness.

The horse may be having difficulty walking due to some other issue, so it’s not wise to label the condition of navicular disease without a precise diagnosis of where the problem originates.

The horse might have issues in other bones of its foot but presents as a similar problem, which we will talk about later. Navicular disease affects the animals’ feet in the following ways:

1) Severe deterioration in the central cavity of the bone where marrow is
2) Damaged cartilage fibers.
3) Increased chances of new bone formation, sometimes referred to as medullary sclerosis.
4) Intense dislocation of tendons and flexor bone.
5) Formation of spurs on the horse’s ligaments. Technically they are enthesophytes also described as abnormal bony outgrowths at the attachments of bones and ligaments. 

About the navicular bone

To have a better understanding of the disease, one first needs to understand more about the affected structure.

  • Etymology: The prefix “navicu” comes from Latin and means a small boat. The reason for this prefix is because the shape of the navicular bone resembles a canoe (a pointed vessel used to navigate the seas)
  • Structure: The navicular bone is a small, flattened bone, lined across the back of a coffin joint. It comprises a central marrow cavity for nerves and blood vessels to enter and a smoother backside, which acts as a gliding surface for the flexor tendon.
  • Location: The navicular bone is located within the horse’s hoof, between the coffin bone and the pastern bone. The navicular bone is surrounded by many soft tissues, which help attach the bone to other ligaments. A soft sac called the navicular bursa acts as a cushion to the bone.
  • Function: The navicular bone’s primary function is to act as a gliding surface for the digital flexor tendon. It helps the tendon to switch the angles and allows for movement.

Now, as we have a better understanding of the structure and what it does, let’s look at the symptoms associated with navicular bone.

What Are The Symptoms Of Navicular Disease?

A Horse with Navicular disease may show the following symptoms:

A horse’s deteriorating navicular condition often starts with acute pain in the hoof. Of course, the horse lacks the ability for complex communication, so naturally, it can’t tell you what he’s feeling.

So, you have to pay attention to the horse’s behavior and how it moves during its runs. Chronic forelimb lameness occurs more often in performance horses rather than ones not stressed as much.

A horse with degenerated navicular bone expresses the condition by pointing one foot. It does this because typically, the pain starts in one foot more acutely.

When the animal runs, may stop often to rest and might alternate its weight from side to side. Horses may also switch lead legs when running, which can be an alarming symptom.

Since the heel is also degenerating, the horse typically lands on toe-to-heel contrasted with a healthy heel-to-toe landing, which the usual horse exhibits.

Paying attention to the movements and overall condition of your horse will help you catch issues and plan possible treatment.


If your horse is displaying symptoms of navicular disease, you can perform some testing. The standard tests involve applying pressure to the rear of the animal’s foot with a hoof tester, a wedge test, and the frog pressure test.


I typically take my hoof testers and squeeze the heel of a horse’s hoof. If he flinches, which is a signal of pain, then I typically move to the wedge tests.

Wedge Test: In this test, the foot of the horse is placed on a wedge, which causes the foot to hyperextend, and the opposite leg is then held off the ground. The horse is then forced to trot along a straight line to watch for the lameness in the horse’s movements.

Frog Pressure Test: In the frog pressure test, the foot of the horse is placed on a small wood block, causing to exert pressure on the foot while the opposite leg is left in the air. The horse is then forced to trot along a straight line to watch for the lameness in the horse’s movements.

Source material can be found here.

If after testing I think he has navicular, I call the veterinarian. He will typically administer nerve blocks and take x-rays to isolate the problems and recommend a treatment plan.

Treatment of Navicular Disease

The treatment of the navicular disease can vary depending on the severity and condition of the horse. Different treatments can be surgical or non-surgical.


Non-surgical Treatment

Let’s first discuss the non-surgical methods of curing your horse.

Shoeing-treatment: This treatment focuses on treating the axis between the coffin bone and the pastern bone. The hoof angle is manipulated to align correctly.

While manipulating the hoof, it should be noted that the hood’s blood flow isn’t comprised. Keeping in mind the precise anatomy of the horse’s hoof and navicular bone, the treatment might be sufficient for most horses suffering from shoeing treatment.

Medical treatment: Various forms of NSAIDs can also be beneficial for many horses. Depending on the horse’s schedule, some form of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Surgical Treatment

If your horse’s condition worsens and he doesn’t get well using non-surgical methods, you will have to look for strategies that involve surgeries. There are some forms of surgeries; let’s talk about some of them.

Neurectomy: Neurectomy is performed by cutting the digital nerve of the pastern bone area. There are multiple methods of doing so, depending on the quality of the surgeon.

According to estimates, most horses feel better after the neurectomy. A neurectomy is a good option for the horse, which doesn’t get better by all the non-surgical methods of treatment of navicular disease.

Navicular disease is a bothersome disease but can be treated by adequate attention to the horse’s condition and picking out the best treatment according to its condition.

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We hope that the blog is informative, looking forward to reading your thoughts in the comments.