Dolphins and Sea Lions Serving in the Military29/10/2017
Imagine sitting in a restaurant, munching away at a nice meal. Upon glancing around you notice a miniature horse at the neighboring table.
Don’t be surprised if you come across this one day. Miniature horses are now being trained as guide horses, similar to the way guide dogs are trained, to assist people with disabilities.
Like guide dogs, guide horses wear a harness and help their owners navigate the world. They can recognize signal lights and stop signs, and alert their owners. Guide horses can be taught to warn their owners of changes in elevation, such as a curb or a flight of stairs, and to guide them around moving and stationary obstacles.
As well as reading the environment and acting, guide horses can also recognize voice commands and be trained to ignore commands from strangers.
Miniature horses stand at approximately 34 inches or 86.36 cm tall, not dissimilar to the size of a large dog.
Benefits of Miniature Horses
You might ask, why would someone want a miniature horse? Don’t guide dogs do an excellent job of assisting their owners?
As it turns out, miniature horses do provide some benefits.
The attachment between a guide animal and their owner usually only strengthens over the years. A guide dog’s working life spans about 8 years, forcing their owner to painfully detach and reattach with a new partner animal every decade or so.
Add to this the cost of retraining a new dog.
On the other hand, a miniature horse lives on average for 25 to 35 years, so minimising this gut-wrenching task.
Another reason to choose a guide horse over a dog is that some people are allergic to dogs, thus ruling out a canine guide.
Religious affinity is another possible factor. Some Muslims consider dogs unclean.
Miniature guide horses do have some practical advantages over dogs. They can possibly tow a wheelchair and can support the part-weight of their owners leaning on them for support.
Miniature horses don’t shed hair all year round as some dogs do.
They possess better eyesight than dogs. Horses have eyes on the sides of their heads and can move each eye independently of the other, and so more quickly recognize potential threats.
You might be surprised to know that guide horses can also be toilet trained.
One potential problem is the cute-ness of miniature horses, making them petting targets for strangers. This is a definite no-no for service animals that need to focus on the immediate environment for possible hazards.
Disadvantages of Miniature Horses
However, Eugenia Firth of the National Association of Guide Dog Users in the US holds serious reservations about guide horses. She suggests that the safety and efficacy of guide horses is not yet proven.
Eugenia is concerned about the lack of guidelines for both their training and for matching guide horses with specific owners.
The matchup between a guide animal and owner is crucial. Guide dogs are matched to people according to the person’s speed and pull when walking, and their personality. Whereas, Eugenia suggests, the process for pairing guide horses to owners is not established and appears to be ad hoc.
One problem, according to Eugenia, is that owners’ of guide horses are limited to living in rural areas as guide horses need a small yard or garden to live in part-time. Also, that guide horses cannot curl up on a person’s lap or on a seat like guide dogs can, so their owners cannot so freely travel in taxis or on buses. On a plane, miniature horses need to travel first class to get the room needed. Such travel limitations seriously hamper the independence of people with disabilities.
She points out that while miniature horses can be toilet trained, they need to toilet more frequently than do dogs.
Laws Around Assistance Animals
Whether you will see a miniature horse at a nearby restaurant table anytime soon, depends on your local laws.
The laws vary around the world as to whether the term service or therapy animal includes only guide dogs, or whether other animals such as miniature horses classify, so enabling them to travel freely throughout public places.
At the moment, the laws are in a state of flux around the world. As times change, so the relevant laws evolve. The US currently interprets service or assistance animal more liberally than many other countries by including more animals within the definition. Miniature guide horses do challenge current day mindsets regarding assistance animals.