Horses with lameness problems need special attention and care. Here, we discuss management of the three most common causes of lameness: navicular disease, laminitis, and arthritis.
“One of the biggest factors in dealing with any chronically lame horse is making sure you have the right diagnosis, and then dealing with it with the help of your veterinarian and farrier,” says Melinda Freckleton, DVM of Haymarket Veterinary Service in Haymarket, Va.
In most cases, appropriate footing is a key piece of the cure. “Make sure it is not too hard, and not too deep. It should be a happy medium, to put the least stress on joints,” she says.
Freckleton notes that slippery, muddy or hard ground and steep slopes are difficult for arthritic horses. “This is also true for other lameness conditions, including navicular or laminitic horses,” says Julie Bullock, DVM, of Mt. Sidney, Va.
And footing matters most for older horses. “Ice storms and other bad weather may make it very difficult for the older horse, and he will need shelter and protection—someplace dry and flat,” explains Bullock.
Here’s the rest of the story.
It’s hard to give specific recommendations for the navicular horse, says Freckleton, since the term refers generally to heel pain. “With magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other modern diagnostic tools, we’ve now learned that ‘navicular’ encompasses a wide variety of disorders—and all look the same, in terms of clinical signs,” she says. But the appropriate treatments are quite different. “The navicular horse has two different potential management paths,” says Freckleton.
Managing acute injury
“If pain is related to repetitive stress or acute soft tissue injury, the horse may need to be managed as if he sustained an acute injury, with a period of strict rest followed by rehab,” she explains. With adequate rest, the prognosis is often good.
A second, more classic navicular scenario is the horse with permanent damage that requires a change in management for the rest of his life. This horse would benefit from good footing, with diligent attention paid to shoeing. “Trimming and shoeing must be appropriate for the problem, and be done frequently—every 4 to 5 weeks compared with the 6 to 8 weeks (or longer) that other horses may tolerate. Frequent and proper shoeing is a huge factor for horses with any kind of foot-related lameness,” says Freckleton.
“Individuals that don’t have an acute soft-tissue injury can benefit from consistent exercise—the same amount of time, many days a week—and plenty of turnout, although they don’t need to be out 24/7,” says Freckleton. “They also need consistent follow-up to make sure these things are working and that the horse is staying sound. They may need repeat x-rays to help guide the farrier. They may also need follow-up medical care, such as injections of Adequan or Legend, or joint injections,” Freckleton says.
Medications vary. Some are more effective with specific breeds. Your veterinarian may select what has worked well in his experience with a certain type of horse. “Here in northern Virginia, I don’t see a lot of working Quarter Horses. Consequently, I might not reach for the best drug for that breed on my first try. I see lots of off-the-track Thoroughbreds, warmbloods, and walking horses, and they have a little different physiology and tendency about what happens inside the foot,” Freckleton says.