Commonly found in sport horses, navicular syndrome, is a chronic degenerative condition generally found in the front hooves of horses. It can be caused by ongoing stress on the navicular bone or due to hoof injury, causing the ligaments and tissues in the heel to breakdown.
Navicular syndrome may also be referred to as podotrochlear syndrome or caudal heel pain. Although the navicular bone in the horse is located in the back of the coffin joint towards the rear of the heel, navicular syndrome can also involve the navicular bursa, heel bulbs, coffin bone, suspensory ligament, digital cushion, impar ligament, deep digital flexor tendon, frog, and digital cushion.
Navicular syndrome symptoms can be exhibited in horses by a shortened stride, a toe-first landing, challenges or resistance when turning, neck stiffness, stumbling, difficulty going downhill, and behavior challenges with the farrier. Diagnosis of navicular syndrome typically occurs between 7 and 14 years of age. Horses more susceptible to developing navicular syndrome include being overweight, conformation makeup of a large body with small hooves, a long toe and low heel, and activity including jumping and being ridden on hard surfaces. Horses primarily confined to living in stalls exhibit a higher incidence of navicular syndrome due to reduced blood getting to the hoof as compared to horses living outside and are not limited in movement.
While there is no cure of navicular syndrome in horses, suitable management of the condition can help improve your horse’s comfort and can also help prevent your horse from developing navicular syndrome. Exercising a horse on suitable footing, ensuring hoof balance and support of the heels are maintained by your farrier, and keeping your horse from becoming overweight can serve as both prevention guidelines and ways to help manage the condition if your horse has been diagnosed with navicular syndrome.
Consult with your equine veterinarian for a diagnosis if you suspect your horse may be exhibiting symptoms of navicular syndrome. If your horse is diagnosed with navicular syndrome, your veterinarian may recommend a period of stall rest to allow the hoof structures to heal, shockwave therapy, medications, and a shoeing plan with your farrier.