Rehabbing Navicular Syndrome

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Hmmmmm. Where to start?  

I was asked to do a post on rehabbing Navicular. It's a tough go. Can be. Sometimes not so much but a simple thought crosses my mind when I think of all the horses with 'Navicular' that have crossed my path over the years and met with my rasp -- "KISS" ... Keep It Simple, Simon. 

So, what are the correct parameters? 

That's the tough part of it. 


Simple. Cause each hoof on each horse is unique in its own needs and requirements for total health and soundness. 

Oh sure, there are 'maps' to follow (hoof mapping) from different hoofcare professionals and plenty of professionals who think 'their way' is the 'only way'. 

I'm here to tell you that's just not true. 

The ONLY way is the HOOF'S way ... on the HORSE in hand. 

Trim the "hoof-in-hand" on the "horse-in-hand".  

Not something that I've merely brushed over but continue to reiterate over and over and over again. 

It's that important. 

The FIRST step in rehabbing "Navicular" is understanding the Hoof Anatomy & Physiology. What IS the hoof? How is it created? How does it work with the lower limb, the upper limbs, the neck, the withers, the back end? 

You see, its all connected. Can't be taken as just a piece of the puzzle. A piece, by itself, does not create a whole picture. The 'wrong piece', the piece that doesn't fit into the whole will mar and deceive and ruin the whole. 

But, the RIGHT piece(s), together, make a beautiful whole picture ... and in this case, the beautiful, whole picture of a healthy, sound horse. 

It would be impossible to write the 'steps to rehabbing a navicular horse' here.  Simply for the reasons I just mentioned. But let's give it a shot anyway ... GENERALLY SPEAKING -- 

Step #1 :: The overall shape of the hoof. Is it long toed? Low heeled? High Heeled, flared and imbalanced?  One has to look at the 'ideal' hoof shape and then take a look at the "hoof-in-hand".  There ARE certain conditions in which the hoof will not thrive.  The conditions I mentioned before ... long toe, low heel or high heeled, etc --- those are not the 'natural' shape of a healthy equine digit.  So look at the hoof and see what you've got in your hand. Think of what is INSIDE that hoof - the foot. 

The capsule, itself, is like a cozie is to a can of soda ... it will 'hug' the foot inside with equal perimeter of horn, all round. Look to see what deviations you see from the hoof 'cozie' ... and then start from there. 

Step #2 ::  Look at the shape of the SOLE of the hoof. It is this that you'll follow for your trimming. "Follow the sole."  Not all hooves are created equal. Not all front hooves are perfectly round in shape; not all rears are perfectly oval in shape. They all tend towards those shapes but again, not all hooves are created equally.  And, again, it is the SOLE of the hoof that you will follow. 





Step #3 ::  (and this maybe should be step #1) ... ALWAYS remember that one cannot glue hoof back on once it's been removed.  A tweak here, a tweak there may be the best course to take. On the other hand, some hooves are SO distorted from lack of proper care or even from past injuries that bear deceiving scars in the wall and coronary band, heels and hooves that details MUST be taken into consideration. At any rate, even then, its best to go slowly and correctly rather than removing too much and causing further discomfort to the horse. 



Step #4 ::  Take a look a the toes. The breakover. Is the wall of uniform thickness all the way around the hoof? From the TRUE apex (the tip of the frog may have to be trimmed back in order to find the true apex if the toes are long) ... there should be about 3/4 - 1" from that point forward (about a thumb's width) to where the tip of the coffin bone lies within the hoof capsule. That will be a suitable 'breakover' point for the hoof. Another 3/4 - 1" beyond that point marks where the distal edge of the wall should be. In other words, how long the toe should be. Trim the toe back accordingly. I'll use nippers if there is enough overgrowth of the toe to warrant that. Otherwise I'll put the hoof on the stand and take the toe back, with the rasp at a 90* angle to the wall, to the approximate point it should be. 

Step #5 ::  What sort of shape is the frog in?  Is it ratty looking and loaded with all sorts of nooks and crannies for thrush to hide?  Clean up the frog.

Step #6 ::  Take a look at the bars of the hoof. Are they overgrown?  The hoof knife can be used to clean up the bars, skimming them down to sole level at the mid-point of the frog and then tapering up to match the heel buttress at the height it should be. 

Step #7::  Look at the heels. Are they less than 1/4" in height at the exit of the collateral groove? Are they more than 2" from the hairline to the buttress? The first would require NO TRIMMING at all except to balance one heel to the other. The second would be to trim the heels down so there is 1" of collateral groove depth from the bottom of the collateral groove to the heel buttress/seat of corn and be sure they are balanced medio/laterally. 

Step #8 ::  Bevel the wall from heel to heel at a 45* angle starting at the white line going out to the distal edge of the hoof. Then round off the edges to finish. 

After trimming I always assess the horse's static stance and then observe moving out. There should be greater stride and the horse should track up nicely in a more comfortable movement than before the trim was started. 

GENERALLY speaking, if the horse is not immediately relieved of discomfort after the first trim it may take a few days or, in the worst cases, up to 4 months for the hooves to be totally remediated. If, after 4 months, the horse is still in discomfort, OR, the horse is NOT better after each trim, then the trim MUST be re-evaluated to see what is going wrong and adjustments for the individual hoof on the individual horse must be made.

If needed, boots can be used to encourage the horse to walk and move. Movement is going to be the key to rehabbing completely. The more movement, the more oxygenated blood and nutrients are carried into the hoof. The other factors that play into this are diet and husbandry/environment. Those, too, must be assessed and changes made, as necessary, if one is expecting full recovery.

Keep in mind, these instructions are for a basic trim and a good, correct basic trim will suit various conditions of the hooves. Also, learn the difference between Navicular Syndrome and Navicular Disease.  Navicular Disease CANNOT be diagnosed in just one veterinary visit and one set of radiographs. Navicular Syndrome is merely a collection of 'symptoms' in the heel of the hoof causing the horse discomfort. Navicular Disease is a degenerative, organic situation that needs to be examined on a regular basis with assessments and radiographs. The general outline above for trimming will usually suffice for the horse with Navicular Disease as well as the one with Navicular Syndrome.

Along with proper trim, diet, husbandry and movement, the individual needs of the individual horse may require herbs, homeopathics or essential oils to help in the recovery. A good holistic hoofcare practitioner will be able to help you with that.  Bodywork will also help correct any detrimental muscle spasms and such that have set in due to compensation for the discomfort and it may well be a chiropractor would be helpful as well. It is always best to consult with your holistic practitioner for directions of how to address Navicular Syndrome from a 'whole horse' approach.  


***Navicular syndrome, often called Navicular disease, is a syndrome of soundness problems in horses. It most commonly describes an inflammation or degeneration of the navicular bone and its surrounding tissues, usually on the front feet. It can lead to significant and even disabling lameness.


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:


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