In 2012 Wendy Murdoch performed a simple experiment placing an unstable surface underneath a horse’s hoof. In 15 seconds the results were so profound she created the SURE FOOT Equine Stability Program and SURE FOOT Equine Pads.
Prior to her experiment the concept of proprioceptive rehabilitation (the ability for to remap horse where he is in space) through the hoof didn’t exist. Murdoch’s Program is now accepted by veterinarians, trainers, body workers and animal physical therapists into treatment plans to address a wide variety of soundness issues.
But SURE FOOT is more than simply a remapping because the Program involves social engagement between the horse and the person facilitating the process. This social aspect allows the horse recognize the person placing the pads under his hooves is safe. Horses go from “flight and flight” (sympathetic nervous system) to “rest and digest” (parasympathetic nervous system) in minutes. These changes are validated by horses worldwide. When standing on SURE FOOT pads breathing deepens, balance improves, horses self-corrected posture and move off with greater ease. More importantly, the changes last long after the horse steps off the pads.
SURE FOOT works with all breeds, ages and riding disciplines. As long as you can safely pick up a horse’s hoof you can use SURE FOOT with your horse. And while the concept seems rather odd, the potential benefits are so great that SURE FOOT is now accepted as a non-invasive, simple and easy technique to help horses overcome a wide variety of issues including fear, anxiety, uneven gait, behavioral problems, floating issues, and rehabilitation from injury and illness. In cases where there is no improvement it leads to looking deeper for an underlying cause. SURE FOOT won’t create a problem but it can decompensate the horse so that the root cause can be found.
How does SURE FOOT work?
The general assumption is that the horse knows where his feet are, how to stand on and use them for balance and propulsion. Not much thought is given to how a horse senses the ground. However, the horse’s quality of movement is directly affected by how his hooves meet and use the ground. And like people, horses have habits (unconscious) patterns of standing and moving, which can create anxiety, instability, poor balance and/or quality movement. What is typically considered ‘resistance’ or bad behavior is often an unbalanced horse.
Furthermore, the hoof is a sensory organ, reporting information to the central nervous system such as vibrations, texture and pain. This information is sensed through receptors, fascia, tendons and ligaments. When a horse stands on the SURE FOOT pads this sensory feedback is activated first unconsciously and then consciously. In addition it appears that neurochemicals are released based on facial expression, which changes from tense to relaxed and even tranquil.
Therefore, SURE FOOT provides an environment which allows both horse recognize his habits and offers the him a means, through self-awareness, to restore and/or reprogram his nervous system to better use on his own body by himself and under saddle.
What happens during a session?
The process is simple provided a few basic rules are followed:
- This is not training. Never force your horse to stand on pad.
- Allow him to move off, which may be from one of several factors: flies, fright, food, friends, following (you) or he is finished. Each of these is important to consider.
- It’s the horse’s choice as to which hoof he wants on a pad, the pad density and frequency. You are the facilitator and the allimportant observer noticing how he stands and organizes his body while on and off the pads.
When we let go of your “trainer” brain and become the observer the horse senses he has permission to show us what he wants. Then he able to express his level of comfort around us. But if we dictate he will remain reserved. Letting go of control is one of the most difficult pieces of this Program. Most people want their horse to “behave” by picking up his hoof and standing on the pad. There is so much to be learned when we allow the horse to be in charge of the session.
Observable changes include: head lowering, eye blinks, eyes closing, softening of the muzzle, ears relaxing, swaying, muscle twitching and some horses go into a deeper level of relaxation. Voilet van Hees, Feldenkrais® and Trauma specialist describes the process as a switch in the response action of the vagal nerve, taking the horse from flight, fright or freeze to a state of ‘all is well’. Violet explains ‘all is well’ is where thinking, learning, rest and digestion occur and more importantly we feel safe.
The ability for the horse to feel safe, be his own teacher and subconsciously self-explore is what makes the SURE FOOT Program work. It allows the horse to sense, feel and play with standing on a surface that give under his hoof, or reject the idea completely. And the most fascinating part is that the horses love SURE FOOT! They will drag people back to the pads for another go.
The SURE FOOT Equine Stability Program has been endorsed by a wide variety of professionals including Linda Tellington-Jones, Dr. Joyce Harman DMV, Dr. Hilary Clayton DMV, Dr. Steven Adair DVM, Farrier Daisy Bicking and Ida Hammer, Dr. Carol Clark DVM, Dr Raquel Butler and many, many others.
Dr. Harman says; “Nothing else in the horse world helps a horse reprogram his movement so quickly. And because SURE FOOT® seems to work at a deep nervous-system level, the horse maintains their progress”.
All this may seem extraordinary or even magical, but Wendy is changing the lives of horses and horse owners across the world – the positive changes in the horses is proof.