Navicular Syndrome (NS) isn't the end of a horses life, although many people feel euthanasia is the only option available to them. The question one needs to answer is whether it is true NS. True NS is the result of a severe trauma sustained above the hoof at some point in your horses life. This injury causes the formation of a clubfoot and is accompanied by a limp on the clubfoot when a turn is executed at a trot. While common NS is a symptom of pathological hoof form which has been created by contraction.
What does this mean for my horse?
If your horse has been diagnosed with Navicular Syndrome, or you suspect that it has Navicular Syndrome, your horses hooves have been unhealthy for some time. Depending on the extent of the internal damage, normal hoof function may never be restored.
Its easy for us to focus all our attention on Navicular when we hear the diagnosis. But Navicular is simply a symptom (not the cause) of unhealthy hoof form.
It is the result of a larger problem.
Unless you know what a hoof should look like, hoof form can go astray for years before the affects are noticed! As the hoof overgrows and becomes more contracted, excess horn growth begins to crush the soft tissue inside the hoof. This displaces the soft tissue inside and disrupts or stops blood flow. As bruising continues to worsen, the circulatory system around the Navicular tissues are then damaged. If this continues, the bone itself will be damaged.
Navicular Syndrome is a sign that your horse has serious pathological issues. What needs to be determined is the extent of the damage that has occurred.
How can I recognize it?
Navicular is always accompanied by pain. However, there can be horses with severe internal damage that remain sound, and others who still have perfect bone form who are lame. This is largely due to the extent of damage to the nerves.
First learn to recognize contraction. A contracted foot, is a navicular foot. So if your horse has any signs of contraction it is headed down a course towards NS.
If your horse stumbles often, or finds tight turns a real struggle it is an indication it may have NS.
Look at the shoulders and pasterns. Are they tight or upright? If they are you can suspect NS.
What about weight bearing? Do they refuse to weight the heel on one or both feet?
But more than anything are they contracted?
How can I help to see this healed?
The most common form of Navicular Syndrome is the result of a lifestyle illness. Domestication. Coupled with lack of exercise and improper trimming is a recipe that sets a horse towards this degenerative condition.
The less common form of Navicular Syndrome is the result of a severe, or surprise trauma to the body that forces the hoof to develop into a club in order to support itself. You'll usually find this anchored in the scapular, canon bone and sternum.
However, both are treatable.
The key is to make whatever lifestyle changes are needed.
Stick to a regular and professional trimming schedule.
Get whatever body work is required.
And reverse contraction.
Barefoot is not a miracle cure all. Neither is body work. The end result will depend largely on the hooves capability to become healthy, and the bodies ability to regain function. Its true that some horses will never regain full health, but they can make amazing progress towards recovery, health and soundness.
How can I make sure this doesn't happen again?
Prevention is better than cure. Learn to recognize contraction, and keep an eye on your horses hooves. If you notice that the trims (or shoeing) are resulting in contraction, take action immediately!
Stick to a regular trim schedule, ideally every 3-5 weeks.
Do what you can to provide a more natural lifestyle and provide your horse the opportunity for movement.
(As a final note, NS is far more common on hard and dry terrain, and less likely to occur in soft and wet conditions. The reason being the soft ground is much more forgiving of poor hoof form and incorrect trims.)
NS does not have to be a world ender - on a personal note I have rehabbed many horses diagnosed with this condition with minimal rehabilitation time in some cases. The key is knowing how to trim correctly to bio-mechanics - and dealing with any upper body issues that may be present.