Maureen Tierney says: Navicular is curable. If you want, you can consult her by e-mail.
What is Barefoot Trimming?
I tried to go barefoot but my horse was ouchy. He was fine as soon as his shoes were put back on. Doesn't that mean he needs shoes?
Absolutely not!!! What it means is that your horse is not sound and damage is occurring inside the foot. The reason shoes appear - and the key word is APPEAR - to make the horse go sound the minute they're put on is simple. The shoe prevents the full weight of the horse from coming down on the digital cushion - so he doesn't feel pain when shod. The digital cushion is still unhealthy, and eventually this will result in the horse being off even with shoes on. The diagnosis will most likely be "navicular syndrome".
Let me explain what's happening. When the horse moves he's supported by the bony column (his leg). As the leg is loaded the pastern flexes to absorb some of the shock. But inside the foot the coffin bone descends and presses on the digital cushion. That action presses down on the frog and the back of the hoof actually spreads outward under the weight. As the hoof comes off the ground, the weight is relieved and the hoof contracts the amount that it spread when weighted as the coffin bone moves up again. That action - in a barefoot horse - is what keeps the digital cushion tough and healthy. In a shod horse, the shoe is placed on the foot while it's in it's contracted phase. Due to the strength and rigidity of the shoe, when the horse's leg is loaded during motion, the hoof cannot spread and the digital cushion never bears the amount of weight it should. Since in nature the rule is "use it or lose it" the digital cushion begins to lose mass and become weak.
Now, if you take the shoes off, the horse's foot can function normally again. But since it's gotten soft and has shrunk, the digital cushion doesn't offer the thick pad of support it should. When the horse's weight comes down on it, he feels pain in varying degrees - depending on much it has deteriorated. The good news is that the digital cushion will rehabilitate and become healthy.
You might ask - why not put shoes on then? The answer is that shoes only mask the problem. Over time the digital cushion will continue to weaken and eventually the shoes will no longer mask the problem. Now the horse will be diagnosed with "navicular". He will be put in "therapeutic" shoes which will mask the problem again - but do nothing to reverse or prevent further damage. At that point the horse will continue to go downhill and become unrideable and unhappy. Well before his time. Instead of remaining active and young into his 30's, he will be old at 20.
Correct barefoot trimming will interrupt that cycle and restore the digital cushion to health, allowing the horse to be happy and healthy much longer.
The really good news? Navicular is curable. A good barefoot trim and proper lifestyle can reverse the effects. Your horse can again become pain free.