A Navicular Diagnosis

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When I started Piper in early 2015, she was sound. However, as we moved past the first few rides and got going a little, at times I felt she was a little off at the trot. It was always really hard to pin down, or even be sure of. Some days it was maybe, maybe there. Some days it definitely wasn’t. It was never anything as distinct as a limp or a head bob. It was just this feeling I had that her movement was mildly inhibited, or a little hitchy at times. I could always come up with a plausible explanation. She is small, and wasn’t yet used to carrying a rider. The sand in our arena is a little deep and uneven in places, so she had to work harder in those spots. She can get tense in new situations, and that leads to choppy or uncertain movement at times.

So, the spring turned into summer. When I started riding Piper outside the arenas, exploring the grassy pastures we like to ride in, she seemed much better. I thought she’d gained strength and confidence and whatever had been maybe a little wrong was a thing of the past.

Then, in late November, one day she was suddenly mildly but definitively off in the left front. We couldn’t find any evidence of why. No injury, heat, bumps, swelling, sore spots, stone bruises. Nothing. We figured she’d strained a muscle or a tendon, and decided to give her some time off.

All through the winter, the problem would come and go. In January we had a few good rides with no sign of the problem. A few weeks later, I got on her back and felt it – this hitch in her step. So I got off again two minutes later. We tried TheraPlate treatments, massage, linament rubs. Nothing made any difference.

Finally, about a month ago, the horses got turned out into the bigger pasture. And suddenly Piper was limping even at the walk, even without a rider, even on grass. It seemed to get worse by the day. We still couldn’t find any sign of why. We had the farrier look at her. He was perplexed. We called in a vet. And yesterday, Piper was diagnosed with navicular syndrome.

The causes of navicular are unknown, though there are plenty of theories. Piper is not a classic risk case. She wasn’t even started (much less ridden hard or jumped) until she was five, and we rode her very lightly. She’s a small horse, with good-sized feet that aren’t excessively upright or narrow. But she is a Quarter Horse, and some Quarter Horses get navicular.

Navicular cannot be cured, but it can often be successfully managed. Looking back with the clarity of hindsight, I see that stickiness I felt on and off riding her last spring was probably the earliest signs of the condition. She’s a textbook case. What starts as mild and intermittent offness progresses into a horse that’s in constant pain.

While this is not good news at all, I feel oddly relieved to have a definitive answer and explanation for what’s been a protracted and confusing situation. Now, at least, we can make informed choices about where to go from here. Fortunately, a shoeing strategy that lifts the heel to reduce pressure on the navicular bone can often help. So our next step is to get back with the farrier.

Horseback Hours YTD: 48:30

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4 years ago

Oy, that's a rough diagnosis. I have heard it can be managed with shoeing, but still a tough thing to have in a younger horse. Good luck!