Mechanical overload due to poor conformation or shoeing has been suggested to contribute to the development of navicular disease. While studies have determined the compressive force exerted on the navicular bone in normal horses, this has not been reported for horses with navicular disease. Also, the force has not been converted to stress by correction for contact area. In this study we developed a technique for the determination of the contact area between the deep digital flexor tendon and the navicular bone in vivo, and used a forceplate system to determine the force and stress on the bone at trot in 6 normal and eight diseased horses. The mean ± s.d. peak force and peak stress were 5.62 ± 1.45 N/kg and 2.74 ± 0.76 MPa for the normal group and 6.97 ± 1.50 N/kg and 3.07 ± 0.55 MPa for the navicular disease group. The peak force and peak stress were similar for both groups but the force and stress in the horses with navicular disease were approximately double control group values early in the stance phase. This was due to a higher force in the deep digital flexor tendon, which was attributed to a contraction of the deep digital flexor muscle in early stance in an attempt to unload the heels.