What do you do if you’re blind and allergic to dogs? Some people are letting hooves lead the way.
Miniature horses can be trained to guide the blind, and The Guide Horse Foundation is doing just that. The organization was founded in 1999 as an experimental program and is now working to provide miniature horses to the blind at no cost, with volunteers and donations supporting the costs of the miniature horse.
The mane attractions of the mini horses as guiding eyes are that they are non-allergenic, are strong enough to support their handler when standing up and, with an average life span of 30 to 40 years, they can live longer than dog guides. The mini horses don’t have to live inside, avoiding dirty paws and drooling jowls that can come with traditional guide dogs. If horse lovers want an indoor companion, the minis can be trained to live inside and can learn to love other household animals.
Mini horses can ride in vehicles, including taxis, buses and subways – where all service animals are allowed. They are taught to “spook in place,” are desensitized to noisy, rowdy situations and ignore threats from other animals while they are on the clock.
Miniature horses are gentle and affectionate, according to the American Miniature Horse Association. Most weigh between 150 and 250 pounds and are not much bigger than a large dog. They feed on pasture but don’t require a lot of land – once acre can accommodate more than one mini horse.
The mini horses, which are the result of 400 years of selective breeding, usually train for six months to a year before graduating their horseshoes to guide services. About 1.3 million people are legally blind, according to The American Foundation for the Blind. These mini horses provide another option to these people for another set of eyes, as well as companionship and security.
While mini horses can be housebroken, I wouldn’t want to be around when it has to go to the bathroom!
For more information on guiding mini horses for the blind, visit: http://www.guidehorse.org.