Horses with Navicular- Can They Be Ridden?

Jessica McDaniel
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Navicular syndrome, often referred to as Navicular disease, Navicular bone disease or Navicular Syndrome, occurs when the sensitive part of the horse’s foot is injured and inflamed. Pain in the area may be caused by irritation in the form of other injuries such as bruising, cracked hoof, abscess of the navicular bone from excessive trimming, rubbing against a shoe or poorly-shod hoof.

Navicular syndrome cases may prove fatal as horses so hurt require a special farrier and vet attention all the time. Although the foot injury is only seen in horses, video medics, however, reveal that the disease can also manifest in dogs.

This condition can manifest or worsen due to mishandling in the first three key stages of life for a horse: conception, pregnancy and the first few months after foaling. Both birth and foaling conditions can result in bone weakness of the bone.

The navicular bone is susceptible to inflammation and a serious complication can get to the foot joints or tendon sheaths as soon as a horse steps on a hard surface such as a concrete floor. Often the incident arises after the horse has experienced a previous injury in the same foot.

Navicular syndrome (navicular disease) is a condition involving the navicular bone and the surrounding ligaments, tendons and bursa in the heel of a horse. Similarly, there is also a navicular bone in the human foot, but it is not the one causing the problems. The human condition is known as navicular syndrome and is a disease that looks very similar to navicular disease in horses.

It's a common disease in all riding or working disciplines. The disease is usually a chronic inflammation of the navicular bone which can be caused by poorly fitted shoes, concussion, poor conformation and/or high-heeled toe angles. It is often misdiagnosed as “shoe soreness". You can read more about it in our guide on navicular syndrome.

Helping a Horse with Navicular

Navicular syndrome or "New-e-chel-ar" is a hereditary degenerative joint disease of the foot. It is a disease I have seen in the official show horse, police horse and family riding horses. Any pedigree horse can be affected.

While pictures of this disease portray an obvious pendulous foot, many times the horse has a pain-free foot. However, the horse may "laminitis out", which means that the shoe portion of the heel is tender to touch and can sometimes be slightly sensitive to riding, especially the first few days.

The best way to determine the amount of lameness in a horse is by using the Lunge Test. This is an effective way to get the feel of your horse's gait without the distraction of a rider's weight. The lunge test consists of going through a series of short circles while increasing the tempo until the horse is at a steady trot. If lameness is present, the horse will break gait.

If lameness is present, the horse should be worked through different gaits and then without a rider to search for the lameness. The best time to assess a horse's lameness is in the early morning. The tissue is not as fluid filled as it is in hot/humid and dusty or cold conditions.

Riding a horse with navicular disease is possible but will depend on the severity of the condition, the possible treatments as well as the overall health of the horse.

Navicular disease is a type of foot lameness that affects the back part of the foot, just behind the toe. It’s a common foot injury in horses and is thought to be the result of many stress factors, such as uneven hoof support, forcing the horse to carry extra weight, or repeated impact on rocky, uneven terrain. It’s also seen in older horses.

In the early stages of this condition, your horse might place more weight on the side of the foot that’s affected and may favor it slightly during exercise. If the condition is chronic (a long period of time), your horse might display all of these symptoms or the lameness may show up suddenly. If it’s the latter, he might display an unwillingness to move, refuse to move forward, and establish an intermittent, worse case scenario.

A horse with a mid-stage case of navicular disease might display these symptoms in addition to the possible lameness or instability in the affected foot. He might also have a difficult time placing weight on the foot or putting it down.


Horses with Navicular do not tolerate speed or lateral work. It is important for the farrier or veterinarian to accurately diagnose Navicular disease, as the fetlock trauma or dorsal stress fracture may be mis-diagnosed as Navicular disease.

Many "reputable" tack shops and self-proclaimed "experts" will still sell you a riding saddle, riding boots, and other riding paraphernalia for a horse with Navicular disease. DO NOT DO IT! Oh, you've been told Navicular disease is curable AND "just like arthritis" in the knee? Think again! If you still do not believe me, ask the farrier or veterinarian who is treating your horse about the effects of Navicular disease on the foot and the horse's overall health.