Friday 1 July 2011

"Navicular"** - never just a bolt from the blue

**I'll preface this post by making it clear that when I use the term "navicular" its a shorthand for any hoof problem which has blocked to the caudal hoof - ie where the horse has come sound, or significantly sounder, following a block of the palmar digital nerve.  "Navicular" in this post refers not only to damage identified by bone changes on x-ray but also deep digital flexor tendon, collateral ligament or other soft tissue damage shown on MRI.  Its not technically "correct" but its a lot shorter than pasting this whole paragraph every time ;-)

I've had a lot of enquiries recently from people whose horses have been diagnosed with "navicular" and who are - of course - wondering what on earth to do next.  Its fantastic that barefoot rehab is now starting to appear on the radar and thats a huge step forward from a few years ago, but the phrase "barefoot" is enough to cause its own problems.

A typical response from someone with a "navicular" horse is to say "Barefoot won't work for my horse - he's already lame and when he loses a shoe he is in agony, so how could I put him through barefoot as a rehab option - he'll just be more miserable?".
I can understand their worries.  In 2000, my old horse Ghost was exactly the same - shod in bar shoes he was totally crippled when he lost them and could barely hobble a few yards.

I refused to put him through discomfort, but if I had refused to consider barefoot he would have ended his days about 8 years too early, getting steadily lamer in his shoes because his hooves were slowly failing him.

Its difficult for owners to get their heads round at first - but horses with "navicular" haven't normally got one hoof problem, they have several.  "Navicular" occurs when horses have a weak caudal hoof, but a weak caudal hoof never occurs in a truly healthy hoof.  
These prints are a giveaway  - complete lack of caudal hoof engagement, of course - though "navicular" can affect unshod as well as shod horses. 

In reality, horses with "navicular" generally have a host of other hoof weaknesses at the same time, some of which are related to caudal hoof weakness (medio-lateral imbalances, contracted heels, infected frogs) and some of which may be incidental.  Thin, sensitive soles are a good example of the latter - a common problem in very many horses.  They aren't a consequence of "navicular" but are yet another sign of hoof weakness and are often related to nutrition.

The irony is that - if your horse already has "navicular" - although shoes may be stabilising and palliative, they don't make the hoof stronger.    Your horse already has weak hooves and [here goes my neck on the line :-)] I am absolutely sure that by far the quickest, most long-lasting and most thorough way to strengthen hooves is to take horses barefoot PROVIDED you have a foundation of excellent, balanced nutrition and surfaces on which they can be comfortable but receive stimulus and support.  [The big proviso is there because it is NEVER beneficial  - let alone fair - simply to rip a horse's shoes off and leave it to struggle on weak, painful hooves.]
Its not a case of depriving horses of their shoes and expecting them to hobble around - thats indefensible and normally counter-productive as well.  Its a case of giving horses the best possible opportunity to improve their hoof health and transform those weak, compromised hooves into fantastic, fully-functioning hooves  - which most horses, in my experience, are dying to do.

The print above is Ghost's - many years after he came out of bar shoes, stomping along on the roads perfectly happily barefoot and demonstrating his recovered caudal hoof strength :-)


cptrayes said...

I am just waiting for the world, particularly the veterinary world, to catch up with what you have learnt Nic. I could not agree more with your post if I had written it myself.


Nic Barker said...

I am very encouraged by the vets I've talked to in the last few months. They are interested and supportive, just need some good rehab results to help them along :-)
It's definitely starting to happen ;-)

Neets Human said...

Argghhh SNOW.. amazing how a hoof print can have no frog.. utterly weird.