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Navicular Disease and Your Barefoot Horse

Information provided by Cavallo Horse & Rider
Written by Carole Herder, President of Cavallo Horse & Rider

The idea that working horses can be barefoot isn't new. Horses have a long history of barefoot performance. While barefoot, horses have carried fully armoured men into battle. They've also been used for fieldwork and performance in their natural barefoot state.

The equine hoof is a miraculous structure designed with innate intelligence to function as support for a horse's weight in movement. When a horse's full weight descends, a hoof in its natural state is sandwiched between that load and the ground.

The hoof spreads apart, allowing the coffin bone to drop like a trampoline. This is the natural shock-absorbing feature of the hoof. The hoof walls spread (up to 6mm from side to side), and the sole draws flat.

Photo courtesy Cavallo Horse & Rider

Consider the concept carefully, as this small apparatus has supported equines throughout history for millions of years.

The Question of Horse Shoes
Our question at Cavallo Horse & Rider is: When metal is nailed in all around, how can the hoof function as it should? Where is the shock absorbed?

The metal shoe is nailed on with the idea of protecting the hoof, or just because it has always been so.

The shoe is nailed on when the hoof is in the air, at its smallest, most contracted shape. The hoof isn't expanded with weight-bearing or movement. Then the hoof is held firm in this state by metal; there's no spreading out and no room for the coffin bone to properly descend.

In some cases, the coffin bone then pushes down under the horse's weight and bruises the solar corium, because the sole can't draw flat to get out of the way. Shock is absorbed in the sensitive tissue of the hoof or farther up the leg structure.

Our horses are sore, as our current-day proliferation of products containing glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and anti-inflammatories demonstrates.

Is It Navicular?
In our opinion, the pain caused as a result of bruised solar corium is often sadly diagnosed as navicular syndrome.

We question whether the diagnosis is actually pressure from the descending coffin bone, rather than damaged bone.

Under X-rays, the bone is indeed shown to be deteriorating. However, these enlarged holes and passageways throughout the bone are a result of congested blood and shouldn't be taken to mean a pronouncement of navicular.

Lack of circulation causes the arteries to swell and clotting pushes against the bone, resulting in deterioration to bone spongiosa. The lack of smooth flow is the real cause of bone corrosion. Pain also results through irritation of connective tissue, stress on ligaments, tendons, and bruising when bone tissue meets corium.

A Look at Treatment
Traditionally, instead of treating the cause of soreness by reestablishing natural hoof function, we treat the symptom: We have bar shoes nailed on, and the horse walks off, supposedly sound. We think the bar shoes are an extraordinary cure, when what's really happening may be just the opposite—even less circulation!

In a normal horseshoe shape, the frog still makes some contact with the ground and the blood pumps there. With a bar across the heel, circulation is entirely limited. The horse walks without an apparent limp, because he can't feel his feet. His hoof is numb, and the internal damage continues.

Pain medication can mask the condition. Surgery is questionably risky. Both have negative side effects.

In our opinion, the way to correct the condition is to pull off the metal shoes and rehabilitate the hoof to perform its natural function. Allowing our horses' hooves to function more naturally will decrease pain and discomfort.

The choice is yours to make.

To download a free Q&A, listing the 20 most often asked barefoot questions, visit

Carole Herder has been involved in horse health since 1994. She speaks publicly on the benefits of keeping horses barefoot and in their natural state. Her Company Cavallo Horse & Rider Inc. develops, manufactures and distributes horse products in 25 countries worldwide. Carole and her partner Greg Giles designed and patented both the Cavallo Simple and Sport Hoof Boots. They work rigorously to develop quality hoof boots that provide comfort and protection for both horse and rider.

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