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Tuesday December 7, 2021

If The Shoe Fits #10

Written by Randy Sublett
Category: Essays For Horse Owners
Hits: 4802

In my last article, I discussed conformation as it relates to the onset of navicular disease. Conformation is by no means the only cause of navicular disease. Sharp blows to the back of the hoof such as those caused by overreaching, is a common cause, as is any severe trauma to the area in which the navicular bone is located. The symptoms of navicular disease are lameness and pointing of the toe - many times the horse will stand with its heels elevated (remember the pencil, chair and rubber band? The horse is relieving tension on the deep flexor tendon by raising its heels). A short, choppy stride may also be present and often, especially in the early stages of the disease, a horse may show no signs of lameness after it is warmed up a bit.

So what is the cure? Zip, zilch, nada - not a thing. Sorry, but that is the fact. A farrier can apply a rocker-toed shoe with swelled heels. In some cases a bar or heart bar shoe can be used, both of which will be explained in one of my future columns.

Then there is nerving. In this procedure, the nerve that runs down the lateral or outside portion of the lower leg is cut. Simple as that. This is the nerve that transmits the pain from the navicular bone to the horse's brain. Without this nerve, the horse will not feel the pain associated with navicular disease. But the horse will not feel anything else down there either, so the animal will not know if it is standing on dirt, rock or broken glass. Chances are the animal will not even know its foot is down there. Thus, in my opinion nerving a horse is dangerous for the animal and riding a horse that has been nerved is suicide.

Shoeing for navicular disease is only a temporary measure. If any farrier tells you differently, please feel free to select your favorite method of throwing him or her off the property. Navicular disease is progressive and irreversible - period. However, you may still get a few years from your horse with a good shoeing program and when that no longer works you may still get a few more years of breeding from the animal after nerving him. But you have to ask yourself, "Is it worth it?" Yes the shoeing will cost money, the pain medication will cost money, and the vet bills will cost money. Honestly ask yourself (especially if you are doing all of the above for the sake of breeding the animal), is my horse really that good?

I can see treating a horse for navicular disease because it is the family pet and companion or because the treatment will allow the horse a few more years of service without pain. Remember - I said without pain. The minute pain begins to show, stop riding him immediately. But treating for navicular solely for the purpose of breeding? Don't kid yourself - this is a valid reason only once in a blue moon.

The bottom line about navicular disease is not treatment. It is about the horse owner's ego and having true compassion for a wonderful animal that is probably in a great deal of pain. And when the first is set aside and the second is truly realized, only then can treatment be objective until it is time to say goodbye.


(Randy, a practicing farrier, writes articles oriented to horse owners.)

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