When people think of a service or guide animal they think of a dog, but miniature horses are clomping their way into the field.
Horses have been used for years for therapy and now their much smaller version are being recognized as a great option for the disabled.
In 2011, horses were officially recognized as service animal in the United States. Since then, people have fallen in love with their small stature and docile nature. The height and sturdiness of the horses make them perfect for people with mobility problems. Not to mention, horses are a great option for people that are allergic to dogs but require the assistance of a service animal.
While the initial training is a bit more intensive than a dog, the payoff is worth it. To ensure that the horse will not spook at unfamiliar objects, each one goes through extensive desensitizing training. Service horses are trained the same way a police or military horse would be.
Horses have a natural instinct for finding the safest path and for being on the lookout for danger, since they are prey animals. Their amazing night vision and 350 degree view allows them to safely guide their human. Horses love to have a job and have an abundance of stamina.
“All horses have a natural propensity to guide their master along the safest most efficient route,” explains the Guide Horse Foundation, “and demonstrate excellent judgment in obstacle avoidance training.”
While guide horses are not for everyone, they are in high demand due to their longevity. Aside from their calming presence, horses tend to have longer lifespans than dogs. Dogs typically have to be retired as guides around 8-years-old, but a miniature horse can live past 30. Handlers form a strong bond with their guide animal and like the idea of having their companion for most of their lives.
Ann Edie is legally blind and still has her independence thanks to Panda, her miniature guide horse. “It’s almost like having another daughter. I would not want to imagine life without her,” she said.
The American’s with Disabilities Act set guidelines that all miniature horses must meet to be a service animal. Those guidelines are: “The miniature horses should be 24 inches to 34 inches in height and weight around 70 to 100 pounds.”
There are four regulations provided by the ADA which work as assessment factors to determine where a miniature horse can enter a facility:
– Whether the miniature horse is housebroken
– If the miniature horse is under control
– If the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s size, weight, and type
– Whether the miniature horse will not compromise safety requirements for safe operation for the whole of the facility and other members of the public
Just like dogs, horses need to wear special gear to tell people that they are working. The horses wear vests with a handle on the back for their person to hold as they guide them. There are even custom tennis shoes that some horses wear to help with traction on slippery floors. Petjoy just released a custom line of vests for service and therapy horses.
Miniature horses are not suited for people that live in a condo or apartment, since they need to live mostly outside. Also, horses are herd animals and do best when they live with another animal. Public transportation can also be an issue with a miniature horse. However, many find the pros outweigh the cons.
Watch the video below to see how a guide horse named Panda helps her legally blind mom get around.