Navicular Symptoms in Horses

Rather than check for navicular symptoms themselves, most horse owners consult their vet after they’ve seen a steady loss of performance in their horse.

The horse may have shown a shortened stride, some forelimb stiffness, be shifting weight from one forelimb to the other, or be pointing its toes.

An experienced and observant horse owner may even recall that the horse had previously shown some lameness but warmed or worked out its lameness.

However the warm up has taken progressively longer, until now the horse no longer manages to work out of the lameness.

While walking, the horse with equine navicular disease tends to place its weight on the toe to avoid placing pressure on the heel area, which contains the inflamed navicular bone and bursa.

Since the horse doesn’t place weight on the heel, it will take longer to stop the stride.

While standing the horse will tend to continuously shift its weight. This will relieve the pressure, and thus the pain, on the heel areas.

Navicular Symptoms in Horses

Pressure applied to the frog area, as in the image right, by a hoof tester will cause the horse to flinch if navicular disease is present.

This alone should prompt the horse owner to consult a vet and to carry out a full professional check.


How to Spot the Signs of Navicular Symptoms.

Your horse will tend to place its weight on the toes during movement, the gait will be very rough and sometimes give the appearance of lameness in the shoulder.

Your horse may often be lame after work, but the lameness may disappear with rest.

Because there may be poor circulation in the foot, the heels and adjacent hoof may become smaller and contracted.

In advanced cases, you may notice that the horse has packed mounds of bedding beneath its heels, or the horse is resting its hindquarters on a manger or fence rail.

Navicular ContractionIf you follow Applied Equine Podiatry or a similar proactive approach, you’ll understand that even a slight loss of performance over a short period, coupled with the occurrence of mild hoof deformity (flare, imbalance, increased asymmetry), could lead to pain within the Internal Arch Apparatus, and a diagnosis of navicular syndrome or disease.

Navicular Contraction

Learning about proper foot structure will help you become proactive. Observe your horse when he is sound; watch your horse move under saddle; both in a straight line and when circling. Retain a mental picture of your horses movements.

If possible, have x-rays taken when you know your horse is sound, and get to know what a good foot should look like. But remember, x-rays do not always detect the early signs of navicular disease since the soft tissues are usually the first problem areas.


Navicular Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Shortening of the stride
  • A continual shifting of body weight when resting
  • A stumbling gait
  • Slight unevenness on turns
  • Reluctance to go forward properly or lengthen the stride
  • Pointing – the horse will stand at rest with one leg extended, the weight resting on the toe
  • When the foot is pressure tested, the horse will flinch which usually indicates heel pain
  • General irritability
  • Dressage horses

    Dressage horses with navicular syndrome may have trouble coming onto the bit or may refuse to perform a movement which they have managed in the past.

  • Racehorses

    Racehorses with navicular syndrome may suddenly quit during the race, slow down noticeably at the 3/4 pole or exhibit a loss of form.

  • Show Jumpers

    Jumping horses with navicular syndrome may start refusing or uncharacteristically take down the rails.

    Event horses

    Event horses with navicular syndrome may begin to exhibit poor recovery times, including a prolonged rapid heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature, after the strenuous cross country or jumping phases of the event or they may have trouble producing the times they used to.

  • Riding or Pleasure horses

    Pleasure horses with navicular syndrome may begin to stumble or show signs of irritation like constant tail swishing, or head bobbing.

  • Endurance horses

    Endurance horses with navicular syndrome may, like event horses, begin showing poor recovery rates or the inability to finish rides they would normally complete easilly.