What it is: A degenerative condition characterized by progressive damage to the navicular bone, a small bone of the foot, with accompanying damage to the deep digital flexor tendon and other adjacent structures.
Symptoms: Navicular syndrome is a common cause of front leg lameness. The lameness may be mild or intermittent, at least initially, and more difficult to recognize if both front feet are affected. Other symptoms include a shortened stride; “pointing” (standing with the affected foot in front of the body with the heel raised; if both front feet are affected, the horse will point them alternately); and shoulder soreness due to posture/gait changes.
What to do: Navicular syndrome isn’t an emergency, but don’t ride your horse if he’s lame. Call your veterinarian during regular clinic hours. Don’t give your horse any medication unless your veterinarian recommends it.
Outlook: Navicular syndrome cannot be cured, but some cases can be managed with medication and corrective shoeing, particularly in the early stages. Most horses with navicular syndrome eventually become unrideable due to lameness, but the timeframe varies from months to years depending on the initial severity of the disease, treatment/management measures, and the rate of progression.
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This article originally appeared in the 2012 issue of Horses USA. Click here to purchase the most recent issue.