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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Danner

A Navicular Horse's Purpose

After years of struggling with lameness, you hear the dreaded words from your vet, "It looks like your horse has navicular." Then the vet will explain that he can't say for sure without further diagnostics, but based on the heel pain, shoulder angle, etc. it's a valid assumption.

I'm not going to divulge in treatment on this post. For one, I'm not a vet. Secondly, there are many options that you can pursue, including injections, corrective shoeing, expensive supplements, etc. In the end, not many people can afford the expensive cost of getting a navicular horse sound enough for riding again. Even if you did make the investment, at what physical and mental cost? Is it really worth continuing to push your horse in a job that they're clearly no longer physically designed for?

In my case, I have a lovely buckskin rocky mountain mare named Willow that was informally diagnosed with navicular at the age of 7. She had struggled with lameness for 2 years, and at one point I was spending over $200 on shoeing to make her sound enough for riding. However, the minute Willow felt sound, she would rejoice in the feeling and run wildly in the pasture... leading to a torn tendon. It was so frustrating! The moment she felt good, Willow would injure herself in jubilation. I finally asked myself why I was spending so much money to get her sound, when all she would do is just reinjure herself? Which led to the conclusion that the problem was never really fixed - it was simply a band-aid masking the real issues. When my vet came out and concluded with navicular as the cause, it all made sense, but I still found it a shock. Yes, I could bring Willow in to have them formally diagnose the root cause, but the reality was that her poor conformation was leading her to these physical challenges. Therefore, I concluded that she simply wasn't meant for riding.

After going through a period of mourning for a horse diagnosed navicular or presumed to have Navicular due to continuous lameness, then you can start to ask yourself "Is there any job they can perform?" If you're anything like me, you'll see this lovely (in my case, very young 7 year old!) horse suddenly became a pasture pet and wonder if there's any job they can comfortably perform. Willow is a very sweet, smart horse that easily gets bored. Knowing how much she craved a job, I started to explore some options. Here are a few that I came up with.

1) Therapy: If your horse has a sweet and engaging personality, they can be a wonderful animal assisted activity or therapeutic horse. This does not require riding. Many therapists and counselors like to bring their clients out and work with the horse loose on the ground in the arena. I knew Willow would love this option!

Willow proudly crossing the teeter totter

2) Horse Agility: I make a point of working with all of my horses on the ground at liberty, and I recently discovered the joy of horse agility! It involves creating obstacles for your horse to work through on the ground, and it can be done at liberty or under halter. These obstacles allow your horse to be mentally challenged without being physically challenged. There are even events and competitions that you can participate in, and some don't even require you to travel - you can simply take a video and submit it online.

3) Trick Training: Teaching your horse endearing tricks like bowing, laying down, smiling, and picking things up with their mouth can be a fun, mentally engaging activity! Plus, it can be used to charm guests and show off how smart your sweet horse is.

4) Driving: Asking a horse to pull a light single cart can be an option for a horse with navicular. Now this is definitely experimental, and I would certainly ask your vet before trying it with your horse. However, I have spoken with several people that have successfully driven with navicular horses, and they seem to handle it quite well. It really depends on how advanced the navicular is, and whether or not there are additional physical ailments. If your vet gives you the "ok" to try it out, you definitely need to make sure the cart fits appropriately - an ill fitting cart will cause more harm than good. Certainly worth exploring!

The point of the matter is to not give up on your horse, despite their physical challenges. If they have the will to live and are comfortable enough to

The point of the matter is, please don't give up on your horse simply because they ran into this physical challenge. Even though they can't perform the task you had intended, doesn't mean they no longer have purpose. Give them a chance and explore a new partnership! Who knows? Maybe you'll discover a new passion in horsemanship and develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

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