Caudal Heel Pain

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Does your horse suffer from ouchie heels? Or, perhaps, you've heard those terrifying words out of your veterinarian's mouth ... Navicular.  

Does your horse suffer from discomfort in the heels? Or, perhaps, you've heard those terrifying words out of your veterinarian's mouth ... Navicular.  

Navicular 'syndrome' aka "Caudal Heel Pain" is a common diagnosis when your horse is presenting with pain found to originate in his heels.

Navicular "syndrome" is not to be confused with full-blown Navicular Disease.



No one wants to hear "Navicular Disease"!  That is a career-ending diagnosis for any horse. Many horses are put down simply from that initial diagnosis but that doesn't have to be the only answer. Navicular “Disease” is not something that can be determined with just one xray or one exam. There must be a succession of radiographs taken over a long period of time in order to clearly see the changes that may be evident in the navicular bone.  Lesions or spurs … but even those can be remediated so the horse can continue to work. It might take some time and dedication but, heck … he’s your horse!  So we all need to take the time it takes, right?

Navicular “syndrome” may or may not be progressive depending on the care given. Navicular "Syndrome" is something that can be worked on and remediated with proper trimming and care of the hooves. Caused by a variety of different situations (see list below), it may well be that just one or two changes in the trim and husbandry will take care of the situation in just a few months. 

I've been there, seen it, 'fixed' it hundreds of times. 

My very first horse was gifted to me in 1987 with full blown metal shoes and wedge pads. The diagnosis was ... "Navicular".  But since I don't look at a gift horse in the mouth - ahem - in the feet, I took the horse in. A little while afterwards he lost one of his shoes. So off came the other and I trimmed him up. He was a bit gimpy but we persevered in the face of the most horrible 'prophesies' from some of those around us. "You're killing that horse!"  "He'll never be able to walk again!"  "You HAVE to put shoes back on that horse or you might as well just shoot him!" 

Well, surprise, surprise - he came sound! Sound enough to trail ride, give lessons and even jump small jumps -- all barefoot on his "Navicular" heels. 

Now we've discussed the importance of heels and bars this past week. While some have disagreed with my presentations, that's OK ... I listen to and read all comments but more so, I listen to the horses.  They've been my teachers for over 50 years with almost 30 of those years trimming hooves. 

Horses' hooves can shout loudly!  The trick is to learn to listen to them, as I've stated before. 

So if you've heard the words "Navicular" with regards to your horse, take a good look at his hooves and see what you can see. Find someone who is well-versed in hoof anatomy and physiology and see what that person might have to say! The same person should have years/decades of hands-on experience with hooves from all breeds, sizes, ages, disciplines so as to be able to ascertain 'from long experience'. Think in terms of the REGION of the heels and take a look at the DDFT, the ligaments, the navicular bone, as well as the navicular bursa, coffin joint and the distal digital tendon sheath. 

Only then can a true diagnosis of “Navicular Disease” be differentiated from “Navicular Syndrome” or … “Caudal Heel Pain”.

The following from PENZANCE NHC101 Home Study course:

Signs of Navicular ...

Gradual and progressive increase in lameness of front legs

Weight on Toe; "Pointing"

Shortening of stride

Shifting of body weight when resting


Uneveness in turns

Resistance to going forward or lengthening of stride

Overall irritability


Causes of Navicular ...

Repetitive heavy concussion on hooves

Improper trimming of hooves

Heels too long

Toes too long



Traditional treament of Navicular ...

Orthotics, de-nerving, chemical medications


Natural treatment of Navicular ...

Trim heels down to appropriate height and balance

Trim Toes back

Rocker Toe callus (if no thin soles)

Turn out 24/7

Natural feeding, social & husbandry





Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:



1 comment

  • Billie Stewart: October 10, 2017

    I’m interested in purchasing a pair of scoot boots and have a few questions. My horse was diagnosed with navicular last year in both front feet and we started the barefoot trimming and used the soft ride boots. With the help of the supplement Equibone and the soft rides he is now back to being able to compete. I would like a pair of boots that is comfortable for him that he can wear outside in the pasture when he is turned out and that will give him that cushion he may need. Soft ride boots are great but you can not ride in them or if he starts running or playing in the pasture he loses them. I would also like to be able to have the convenience of a pair of protective boots that will keep him from bruising when we show up at a rodeo or a barrel race and the ground to the arena may not be suitable for a barefoot horse.
    Thank you for any kind of help you may give me,
    Billie Stewart

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