Navicular disease, as it is more commonly known, must be looked at and treated as a syndrome rather than a disease, and this is due to the fact that many different parts of the foot could be affected when this syndrome is present.
This is one of the more common lameness factors in horses and is seen to happen in the front feet rather than the rear feet. It also seems to first effect horses from the age of four and up to nine years of age; although it is mainly seen in the front feet, it can affect the rear feet, but is extremely rare to find rear feet that are affected.
Certain breeds are more affected than others and certain breeds react differently to Navicular problems as well. What might be crippling to a Quarter Horse is totally ignored by the Warmblood breeds.
Over the years various theories have come to light about what causes the navicular syndrome to begin. It was first thought to be an arthritic condition that was brought about from either an injury from excessive pounding or hard usage of the front feet of the horse. There are also additional theories that have added to the research and development of a broader understanding of this entire condition. What has been discovered is the fact that certain horses have traits that allow us to pre-determine, with some sort of accuracy, the type of horse that may be more prone to suffer from this condition. Information now tells us that the breed or classifications of horses that has a history in its lineage that have suffered from navicular syndrome are more likely to suffer from navicular problems. This is pre-determined through conformation faults that are inherited from their parents and/or grandparents or in some cases both.
It has also been proven that improper trimming and/or shoeing techniques can contribute to the progression of the navicular syndrome at a faster than normal rate. In reference to horses that are pre-disposed to the condition through conformational faults can have the condition accelerated as well by too strenuous a work schedule or even by being worked in improper ground conditions (to hard a surface for too long a period of time). Further findings have found that an improper diet can also advance the condition at a faster rate of speed that the specific animal may experience.
The front foot that is affected by this condition will also change its appearance as time goes on and the condition progresses in severity. The foot will become “contracted” at the heels and the frog will start to shrink in size ~ with the shrinking of the frog the pressure to it will be reduced and in some cases total eliminated which leads to the added condition of “thrush” in most cases. The foot will appear to become “boxy” in shape as the condition progresses and will become smaller than the less affected foot as well.
Horses that could suffer from navicular disease are ones that have a history in their lineage of preceding horses having the same condition. This is found to be true through conformational traits that are passed from generation to generation. In addition, horses that have too small a foot for the amount of body mass that they have to support are also a high risk factor for this condition. Don’t forget horses that do not get adequate pre-conditioning for the work that is asked of them.
The best treatment for navicular disease is through complete and correct farrier techniques using a shoe that properly supports and protects the heel area of the foot with a wide web, all of these factors allow for the maximum benefit of the program to be accomplished and the horse to be aided in their ability to reduce the amount of pain that they are suffering. Additional care must be taken to make sure that the toe of the shoe is shaped in a manner that will allow for the ease of operation and allow for the maximum roll over to be accomplished. The program that is established for the correct and proper maintenance of the horse suffering from this condition needs to be followed on a four to six-week cycle so that the proper angle and position of the foot can be realized at all times, thus allowing the horse to suffer as little amount of pain as possible on a regular basis.
With proper care and treatment most horses can extend their usefulness by up to five years and in some cases even longer. This can be accomplished through a shorter shoeing cycle, more exercise and a good and balanced diet that does not allow for over-feeding.
Proper Treatment for Navicular Problems
In order to properly have the correct procedures be followed there has to be quite a few points that need to be both considered and accomplished. These points are easy enough to explain and sometime difficult to accomplish, since the correct decision and procedures have to be determined and accomplished that are correct for the particular situation that your horse is going through. Additionally, you are at the mercy of persons that may or may not know what is necessary or even required to set your horse onto the most comfortable path to recovery.
There has to be some very basic points that the farrier has to cover within themselves to make sure that they are able and experienced enough to accomplish what is necessary to both start and finish the task at hand. If they do not have the required abilities, they then have to be professional enough to help the horse by referring or bringing to your attention another person that is experienced enough to accomplish what may be necessary. A point of contention here is that just because the average farrier is quite capable of taking care of the day-to-day requirements of the average or good-footed horse, it does not mean that they have the highly skilled ability or the knowledge that is specifically required to help the horse correctly. There are people within the farrier industry that do specialize in what is referred to as “Corrective”or “Orthopedic”style of farrier work. This specialist is what is required at this point. It would also be a major point of progression for your particular farrier to assist the specialist so that knowledge and expansion of abilities can happen. The results of this can be two-fold, the farrier gains the knowledge and the experience of the more advanced education and allows the same farrier the ability to be available in the event that the specialist is unable to get to the horse right away in the event that shoes may be thrown or minor adjustment might be required to be accomplished when the specialist is not readily available. Most specialty farriers have no problem with this arrangement since they have a great amount of workload from being a limited number of themselves to be able to accomplish all of the work that is out there. Any point that allows them to have a bit of the load removed will be greatly appreciated.
The farrier that is chosen to accomplish the work that is required needs not only the experience but the proper amount of confidence has to be in place that will allow them to make the solid judgments that may be necessary as they appear and have to be dealt with in a positive way. The person that you have chosen to accomplish the necessary work must have a positive relationship with the veterinarian that you have been working with on this particular problem, for if you do not look at that point there could be major conflicts in the procedure to follow as the program progresses. Once an initial program has been started it has to be followed and not wavered from; this takes cooperation on both sides of the equation to end up with the correct answer that is right for the horse. The ability to understand the principles of allowing the horse to be balanced from the ground up through the entire body must also be understood, for understanding the complete balance principles there will be a complete understanding of the interior of the foot and its proper and correct operation and position.
One of the most important abilities that a specialist type farrier can have is the ability of being able to look at the problem that is at hand and to visualize within their own mind the finished product before the work is even started. This one ability will allow them to have the finished product always looking them in the face as they progress through the various steps and procedures that will lead to the completion to the program. This is the same as filing a flight plan by a pilot to make sure that they follow the safest and most reasonable path and to get to their required destination in the required time.
As the owner of such an animal that has suffered from this particular foot situation there are also requirements on your side of the fence. You have to be able to change ~ you have to remember that this situation did not occur overnight ~ and can’t be fixed over night. The changes that the owner has to make are that they have to be able to start to provide the necessary after care as both the veterinarian and the specialty farrier direct you. What they will be doing is instructing you as to the everyday procedures that are necessary since this situation can be slowed down, but it will never go away. The horse can be made more comfortable, but never totally recover from this particular problem. The shoeing process for a navicular problem is best realized that the overall support of the leg, the foot and the tendon have to be changed and the correct foot balance has to be realized so that the shock and concussion that is introduced to the foot with each step is minimized.
Until next time “Ride for the Brand”.