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Is this navicular?

I am looking at buying a trail horse who is stellar on the trail. 10-12 yo unpapered Missouri Foxtrotter. Walk, trots, canter, foxtrots, side pass, etc., ponies other horses, Steady-Eddie, babysitter-type horse.

I nearly considered buying this horse without the PPE because he’s so functional. For reasons of schedule/expediency, I used the Sellers vet who gave him a complete pass on the PPE, but noted an anomaly on the x-rays of the feet. I sent the rads to my vet, who said it’s an unexplained injury to the RF navicular with some sclerosis. Also, over-loading LF—- Significance depends on the clinical exam. Well the clinical exam was fine according to the PPE vet. However, I then sent to my vet video of the horse trotting in the round pen and my vet said the horse is lame; he is popping his head as the right leg swings forward. Looks foot sore on both, more on one side. His shoes had recently been removed so we had him shoed as if he had navicular (with pads); gave him a week rest. After a week, he is the same. Head popping as the right leg pulls forward. My vet says only an MRI would give definitive answers.

If he trots sound in a straight line, does that make a difference? He was sound and showed no signs of lameness under saddle just two days before I took my video. The vets PPE was two days after I took my video. (Seller’s Vet still claims she doesn’t see any lameness in the video.)

Am I looking at a horse that has navicular disease/syndrome? Should I just walk away? Or is this a case where more rest would reveal different results? From what I’ve read, a horse with an episode of navicular pain would need three weeks rest and three weeks controlled exercise before reevaluation. Walk? Wait and see? It’s easy to say walk away. But I have spent $6000 already on PPE‘s for horses that failed their PPE. With Trail horses, it’s always something; you have to pick your poison.

This horse is stellar on trail and priced consistent with sound, fit trail horses in this area. I don’t want to be unfairly picky and I don’t want to walk away from a good trail horse, but I don’t want to buy a horse with active navicular disease. Thoughts?

Walk away. This is getting into the diagnostic work the seller needs to do. Don’t buy a problem, even when it’s a kind horse that checks a lot of boxes.


He is lame. Either pass or if possible have your vet or one you can trust to be 1000% impartial to try and find out why the horse is off.


I am sure others will be able to give much more specific and nuanced advice, but from my personal experience with a gelding that had navicular, even when it is a rapid and severe case (as it was with him), there can be timeframes of relative soundness and even times when they are going quite well. Sometimes you can attribute it to medication, shoeing, rest, change in footing, weather, turnout. Sometimes it seems totally random. For me personally, however, those times of soundness made it all the more devastating because they were always followed by stretches of undeniable lameness/soreness. It was a runaway train and nothing we did was going to turn around the degeneration and inflammation. In the end, we chose to end his suffering.

All that to say, just know that with navicular, how the horse looks and feels can quickly change. And what you’re seeing in front of you right now (ie, looks sound and strong on a specific day) rarely tells the full story. Of course that’s true with horses in general, but I found that to particularly be the case when I walked through this navicular situation.


Walk away.
Horses develop enough new problems.
You don’t need to buy them pre-installed.


Walk away. I know it’s hard when you like a horse and you’ve done PPEs on others. You will lose even more money in the long run if you buy a problem!


I agree…walk away. Diagnostics are not your responsibility not to mention you are going to be stuck with whatever diagnosis. There is a lot of things that can be damaged in the foot That would need an MRI and a lot of those things do not respond very well to treatment. My guess is the horse would cost less than the MRI?

Keep looking.


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I had two navicular horses, please run away, in both cases it s been heartbreaking for me


I guess the problem is, I’m wondering if this IS “a navicular” horse? Yes there’s a radiographic evidence of some navicular changes. But he’s sound under saddle straight and in circles, and on trail and going on a straight line. The only clinical indication is his head pops up when free lunging in a circle. So that’s what makes me wonder. Wouldn’t navicular pain cause pain in the straight line and under saddle as well? Or am I wrong on that?

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He’s sound under saddle straight and in circles, and on trail and going on a straight line. The only clinical indication is his head pops up when free lunging in a circle. So that’s what makes me wonder. Wouldn’t navicular pain cause pain in the straight line and under saddle as well? Or am I wrong on that?

He’s off in a circle.
That’s a Grade 2 lameness.
Does it matter all that much what the cause is?
You can spend a bunch of cash to get a definitive diagnosis.
There’s a small possibility it will be something you can treat that will resolve, or more likely, there’s an exisiting problem that is likely to get worse with age and use.
If you already owned the horse, that might be something to consider doing.
But why spend money on a lameness workup when you can continue shopping for a sound horse?


The fact that he has any lameness at all plus any navicular changes at all should be enough of a red flag. As I mentioned, navicular has so many variables and it’s also progressive. So it might be a mild case now— but 18 months from now he could look totally different. I would absolutely walk away.


Walk away. Lame on a circle - for whatever reason - is LAME. This isn’t a horse that had a slight reaction to flexions (I have a vet that can make ANYTHING 1-1.5 on flexions), this is demonstrably lame with changes on imaging. Doesn’t really matter what moniker you slap on it.

Footsoreness is one thing, but shoeing the horse didn’t fix it. Time to keep shopping.


Being lame on a circle but not on a straight line isn’t uncommon at all.

A head bob is easier notice when a horse is free rather than under saddle or on a line as they may interfere with the horse’s movement, IME and ymmv.

If the horse was totally sound, the X-ray findings would be less concerning to me personally unless we had a series of images showing deterioration as determined by a vet that I trust. But the horse isn’t sound, so I personally would likely pass.


If shoeing were to fix it, how long after shoeing would you expect the gait to recover? He does happen to live in an extraordinarily rocky terrain, and he was taken out on trail after his shoes were removed, even though he had signs of tenderness, so a stone bruise would not be surprising at all. How much time would I give a horse to benefit from shoeing?

Also, if after two weeks, his head is NOT popping in a circle would I then disregard the radiographic findings? I guess what I’m wondering is, are the radiographic findings alone dealbreaker?

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Part of the reason I’m being so tenacious is that he checks all the boxes and that’s a rare find. I’m 63 and I need a horse that’s calm enough for me and big enough for my husband; brave enough to go out alone but more Whoa than Go. I’ve tried a dozen MFTs and this is the only one that actually foxtrots! Most of them pace. He’s actually very versatile. But a bigger part of the equation is that I bought a horse from the seller and I returned him, so now what I have is a credit for another horse; I don’t actually have cash to take to another seller. She does have another prospect, but he doesn’t tick all the boxes.


As someone dealing with navicular changes in my husband’s retiree right now, run don’t walk. Treating and managing their pain can be both expensive and tricky. Not every case is easily fixed with the right shoeing.

I get that he checks a lot of boxes and is affordable, but there’s a reason he’s the price he is. Also consider that some of his quiet demeanor may be the result of pain—he may not be comfortable enough to act up or go forward. If you fix the pain, you may find yourself with a different horse.

In your shoes, I would pass. I would definitely not spend any more money on diagnostics.


For footsoreness/“horse was barefoot but needs shoes to be comfortable”? Almost immediately. Even with a stone bruise or something easy to fix, you’d see marked improvement because the horse is off the ground a bit.

Ah okay. HUGE conflict of interest for you here and it makes sense why you’re struggling to walk away from the giant red flags. That’s just human, but this horse is already a bit of a money pit and you don’t even own him.

THIS. x1000. I can’t tell you how many people I know personally who have bought nice calm underweight OTTBs with their shoes pulled and/or track soreness, only to find that with weight and bodywork the horse has one heck of a motor. It’s similar here, you KNOW the horse is in pain. You DON’T know how that’s affecting his behavior undersaddle.

Do you have the cash to retire this horse due to navicular/hoof related issues? These guys aren’t candidates for barefoot, low maintenance retirement either - they require a bit more money and time to keep pasture sound. Do you have the cash to do an MRI and treatment if you buy him and find him still lame? Can you afford another horse if you have to retire this one?

Well, no, on a horse where the findings were incidental due to PPE X-rays being done with no outward indication of issues. But that’s not what you have: you have radiographic changes and a lame horse.

I really suggest you listen to your vet and NOT the seller’s vet here. Your judgement is already somewhat clouded due to feeling like you have to buy a horse from this seller. Using their vet for a PPE and getting such a difference in opinion vs your unaffiliated vet tells me there’s likely some conflict of interest there too.


Whatever you have in credit for this seller price out what diagnostics, specialty shoeing, pain management, etc could look like for the next few years plus the cost of retirement if he can’t stay sound. My guess is that will far exceed the credit. No one wants to walk from money. I’d ask for a cash out, even if it isn’t for the full value. Box ticking only matters if he’s sound.



A MRI is a four figure price tag and most likely what you would need to diagnose. Then there is management (if the condition can be managed) and most likely expensive shoeing.

But hey, go for it. It may turn out OK but very likely not…at least not without expensive ‘management’.