Now joining the ranks of the seeing-eye dog, helper monkey and guide pig, is the miniature horse. The decision to use these tiny equine friends to assist those with disabilities is a fairly recent development. While it seems unlikely that this animal would make a good selection for work in such a role, so far the results have been surprisingly positive. Moreover, they do it in style — often wearing sneakers no less!
No, they’re not just wearing modified tennis shoes for added support or because of good fashion sense. The shoes actually provide traction, assisting them to navigate city streets and sidewalks as they guide their owners safely. In addition to their stylish presence, there are many other reasons why these apparently cuddly dog-sized horses are being put to work in the service industry.
Miniature horses have a surprisingly long lifespan. Where as a dog generally lives from 12-14 years, and seldom more than 20, the miniature horse typically lives between 30-40 years. Sometimes miniature horses will even reach 50, making them incredibly good investments as guide animals. It has also been found that fewer people tend to be allergic to horses and that their relatively calm demeanor makes for better acceptance when out in public.
The Guide Horse Foundation’s website, found at www.guidehorse.org is a wonderful resource and expounds upon the many benefits of these creatures. The website is quite informative and answers many of the frequently asked questions about these friendly, yet hard working and intelligent animals. The organization, founded in 1999, says that, “People who have tried Guide Horses report that the horses demonstrate excellent judgment and are not easily distracted by crowds or people.” They also state that miniature horses make good alternatives for people who have dog allergies or are looking for a long-term guide animal.
For centuries, the horse has been trained to navigate city streets, assist with crowd control, and even charge unhesitatingly into battle. The strength of these animals, paired with their imperturbability in seemingly chaotic situations, makes them perfect for safely and swiftly moving people with disabilities to their destinations. Dan Shaw, one of the first to experiment using a guide horse, said he can go the mall with his wife where they can split up to do their shopping, knowing that his guide horse Cuddles will lead him back to the car. The ability of these animals to inspire such confidence in their owners only supports their reported success as reliable guides.
The Guidehorse Foundation. http://www.guidehorse.org.
Dan Shaw. “Yes, That’s Right, It’s A Seeing-Eye Horse.” [Online] http://www.theminiaturehorse.com/article/guidehorse.htm.
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