Tuesday 6 October 2009

"Navicular" horses

Last week was a week full of "navicular" horses*. I get a lot of emails anyway about navicular, but last week I had 3 emails in 3 days from people in 3 different parts of the country, each of whose horses have been diagnosed with "navicular" and each of whose vets have told them that the horses will not recover and will only ever be "pasture ornaments".

I perfectly understand that the rehab we do here, and barefoot as a whole, is still at the fringes of what vets are comfortable with - and I also understand that they are worried that any barefoot practitioner may lack proper training, or even turn out to be another Strasser....

Of course, we are trying to alleviate those worries by being involved in transparent research, like "Project Dexter", and working on vet referral rather than in isolation when horses come here, but still a lot of vets are wary of natural hoofcare.

BUT I would have a lot more sympathy if their own conventional treatments for "navicular" didn't have such terribly low success rates. The figure usually quoted is that less than 50% of horses resume their same level of work after treatment, and I've been told by one researcher that 50% is actually an over-optimistic number and that 25% is more realistic. In the Dyson study (referred to on the Rockley Farm website), 95% of horses with damage to the DDFT and navicular bone failed to return to work.

Most vets are obviously seeing the same fairly disastrous failures of treatments in their everyday practices - typically the emails I receive from owners say that their vets have recommended they should cut their losses and put the horse down, or try remedial shoeing (at considerable expense) which may allow them to use the horse for light hacking but that the horse will never recover fully.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what was predicted for all of the horses who have been rehabbed here, and of whom all but one have in fact, after rehab, returned to the same level of work or higher.

Of course, as well as being only marginally successful, many of the standard conventional treatments for "navicular" are unresearched and unproven (if anyone can point me in the direction of an objective, controlled study which showed any real long term benefits for wedges or bar shoes then I would LOVE to see it).

You can understand vets clutching at experimental straws if there is no alternative, but thats just not the case any more.

No-one is saying that hoof rehab barefoot is easy, or a miracle cure, and OF COURSE its more than just taking the shoes off, but when its done properly, with correct attention to diet, environment and exercise, its a heck of a lot more successful in returning navicular horses to full work than anything else out there.

To be fair, I should make it clear that I haven't seen the 3 horses I heard about last week, and maybe they are coincidentally 3 horses whose hooves would not improve at all with correct rehab...but I doubt it - especially as they were all young horses...

Its the lack of horse welfare that makes me really cross - there is no earthly reason why so many 6-10 yr old horses should be euthanased for want of basic hoof rehabilitation - or even better, basic hoofcare to start with.

In stark contrast, last week also saw Angel, the latest "navicular" horse to successfully rehab here, have a great week, starting hunting. Yet he too had been written off 6 months ago, and arrived here barely sound on 2 bute per day, with a gloomy prognosis from his sceptical vet.

* Yes, I know its a grossly misused term, but since its still being bandied about so frequently, I'm going to use it here too - saves me differentiating about deep digital flexor tendonitis, caudal hoof pain etc and is so much quicker to type ;-)


cptrayes said...

That's what gets my goat Nic. The horses that are still being recommended for shooting in spite of the vets being told that there are alternatives and seeing horses like mine and yours out there doing it! My own vet is STILL saying there is no cure. I could scream!


Nic Barker said...

Fair enough for the vets who have no experience to be cautious, but I agree - the vets who've had the chance to see our horses recover and perform, and who DON'T ask questions or take the chance to find out more - shame on them if they are still advising horses to be put down.