Does your horse really have navicular?

Your horse has been diagnosed with navicular…but could it be something else? Understanding what caudal heel pain looks like will help you determine what’s actually going on.

Your horse is showing symptoms of navicular and your vet has confirmed the diagnosis. But this condition is frequently misdiagnosed, as x-rays are often not clear enough for proper evaluation. Your horse may actually have caudal heel pain – a general inflammation of the corium that results in a horse landing toe first, the same symptoms displayed with navicular.

What causes caudal heel pain?

The horse’s hoof has to land heel first, because the rear third of the hoof is the suspension system for the foot. Generally, caudal heel pain is due to incorrect hoof form in the heel area. It it usually either the result of a combination of weight-bearing bars and/or underrun crushed heels.

A horse with caudal heel pain will be lame with a shortened stride. He will land toe first at a walk and trot instead of landing heel first. Your horse may have difficulties traversing down a hill or show an unwillingness to work on a particular lead.

When a hoof starts landing toe first, the correct hoof mechanism is compromised and pathologies start occurring within the hoof capsule. The longer treatment is delayed, the more serious the condition becomes. Pathologies include contracted heels, atrophy to the digital cushion, and impeded circulation throughout the hoof capsule which then extends to issues throughout the skeletal structures such as shoulder and back misalignment.


Experts will usually diagnose navicular and advise the use of therapeutic shoeing, bar shoes, egg shoes, anti-inflammatory medications, and worst of all, nerve cutting – all of which only manage the problem but do not treat the underlying cause. It is understandable but unfortunate that equine caretakers accept the advice of these equine experts who seem to ignore proven alternative methods of treatment. The alternative treatment is to transition your horse to barefoot. Proper barefoot trimming will restore correct movement and allow the hoof to start functioning again.

The first step in correcting the hoof form is to check the bar height. Bars are an extension of the heels and have an important role of supporting the heels, so the bars should never be dug out as some have previously done. The bars should be lowered with a hoof knife and trimmed back to ensure they are not overlaid or high enough to have initial weight bearing.

The heels need trimming to get the correct angles so they are not compressing the sensitive sole and hence bruising the corium. This cannot be achieved with wedges or similar tools. Generally the heels need to be taken back to sole level to allow them to grow back in the correct form. Galloping and jumping should be avoided in the initial stages of rehab to protect the tendons from the extra stress that will be applied to them. Your trimmer/farrier will be the one to guide you through the rehab process with a management plan.

The sooner the problems are identified and rehab is commenced, the better the outcome.