A unique, innovative way for the horse to be his own teacher.
Developed by Wendy Murdoch, this revolutionary way of improving your horse’s balance, confidence, movement and performance shows that the horse is always present and ready to learn if we can only find ways to access his intelligence. This approach allows the horse to experience his own habitual patterns of movement and provides the horse with an opportunity to explore and learn new ways of standing on his feet and utilizing the ground for greater ease, comfort and confidence.
With SUREFOOT, using a variety of stability and balance pads, horses discover how they are habitually standing. The pad gives under the horse’s weight bringing his attention to where he is placing his feet and providing new information to the balancing part of his nervous system. With this awareness the horse explores, shifts and alters his habitual patterns of standing and moving by himself, ultimately choosing a more secure and effective way to stand and move. The horse retrains himself to stand better without human interference.
In 2013 Wendy conducted a simple experiment. She placed a balance pad under a horse’s hoof. She had no preconceived notion as to what might happen, but was curious to find out. The results were so astounding that she has spent the past several years experimenting, exploring and refining what is now call the SURE FOOT® Equine Stability Program.
During this time she has been exploring SUREFOOT with hundreds of horses, consulted with Dr. Steven Peters (co-author of Evidence-Based Horsemanship), conducted a pilot study with Dr. Hilary Clayton, discussed what is happening with numerous veterinarians including Dr. Joyce Harman and Dr. Rosemary Ganser (both of whom now recommend and/or use SURE FOOT when treating horses), Dr. Robert Bowker, professor at MSU and expert on horse hoof anatomy and other noted equine and human professionals, body workers, farriers and behaviorists. While no one can say exactly how SUREFOOT causes these clearly observable changes, it is obvious that there is something profound happening to the horses during the process, which has a long-lasting and/or permanent positive effects on behavior, self-confidence and performance.
Offer vs. Training
One of the key tenets is that this is not training. It is something you offer to your horse just like when you go to MacDonald’s the clerk asks “would you like fries with your burger?” She is offering you fries and you have the option to say “yes” or “no”. In this way your horse isn’t required to stand on the pads or remain there for any specified length of time. He is allowed to refuse to stand on them, walk off, or stay as long as he likes. Therefore the horse dictates session.
During a session you become the facilitator and observer, noticing how the horse responds, what he does and sensing how he feels after walking off the pads. These observations and sensations allow you to see your horse in a new way. You gain understanding because you discover the habitual postural and behavioral patterns that cause what you feel and observe when handling and riding your horse. Therefore, the process acts like a magnifying glass highlighting patterns and giving you new insights into your horse.
In addition, the majority of horses let down, going from “fight and flight” to “grazing mode” and then dropping into an even deeper state of relaxation, in many cases appearing as if tranquilized. As a session progresses horses can be seen to close their eyes, ignore their surroundings, rock, sway and breathe deeply. The horses are quick to identify the person who brought them this level of comfort and seek out the pads. There are now numerous reports of horses coming up to their owners, when previously they would run away as well as horses clearly attempting to stand on the pads even when difficult to reach.
SURE FOOT can address and resolve many of the balance issues horses incur when handled or ridden. Fundamentally, how that horse’s hoof meets the ground is how that horse meets the world. No matter the size of the horse, his relationship to gravity and the earth is dependent upon the way he stands and places his hooves during movement.
Consider for a minute that your two feet cover more surface area than most horses hooves, yet they are supporting a significantly greater body size and mass. It is critical for those hooves meet the ground in a solid, secure way if the horse is to be confident and perform well. We call this trait “sure-footed”, something that was highly valued when our lives were dependent upon the horse for survival. The horse also has a significantly larger cerebellum, the part of the brain that regulates motor movement, than we do. Therefore, he learns through movement.
Fortunately, more and more people recognize that good quality shoeing or trimming are essential aspects of good horsemanship and affect the way a horse moves. Some may argue that a barefoot horse is better off than one that is shod. From my experience both have habits and there seems to be no difference in response between barefoot and shod horses in regards to response and changes that occur from standing on the pads.
When we acknowledge and address the fundamental way the horse’s hooves habitually meet the ground the horse will change the way he moves. He will seek out, explore and choose something easier and more efficient as long as there isn’t an underlying issue of pain preventing him from making that change. Addressing the horse’s balance through that hoof/brain connection can often reduce or eliminate weeks and months of traditional training because the horse consciously chooses the easier path when he becomes aware of his inefficient patterns of movement and is given a choice.
In addition to reprogramming the balancing portion of the brain, there is obviously an affect on the instinctive part of the brain. While it cannot be fully explained, there is a calming effect, shifting the horse from the fight & flight reaction or sympathetic autonomic nervous system (ANS) response to the grazing or parasympathetic (ANS) response. Some horses experience an even deeper level of relaxation believed to be caused by a release of endorphins somehow triggered by standing on the pads. In some cases a gentle swaying is observed while the horse is standing on the pads.
We are now the official Canadian distributors for the Surefoot Equine Stability System. Both Robyn Hood and Mandy Pretty are accredited “Four Hoof” Surefoot Professionals and have used the pads with Wendy and many different horses and clients since 2014.
Learn how to use the Surefoot Equine Stability System with your own horses here.