When you think of "service animals," you usually think of a service dog like a German Shepherd or Golden Retriever leading a blind person. But did you know that miniature horses are also service as guides for the blind?Due to the size of horses typically used for riding, it is not practical to use them as service animals, except in a therapeutic riding program. However, miniature horses are usually about the same size as some of the large breeds used by service organizations. In addition, large breed dogs usually live to about 12 or 13 years old, a miniature horse can remain in service well into their 20's. Guide Horses, as they are called, are not for everyone. They are a personal preference and are typically requested by horse lovers, those who need a guide with a long lifespan, blind equestrians who ride large horses, and blind people with dog allergies.
Most Guide Horses come via donations from large breeding farms and individual donations. Less than 1% of miniature horses are suitable for Guide Horse training. All horses must have exceptional small size with good physical health and stamina, sound legs and above average intelligence. A licensed equine veterinarian examines all horses before they are accepted into a training program.Some of the requirements for having a Guide Horse are a bit different than having a Service Dog.
While Guide Horses are trained to work indoors while guiding, all Guide Horses handlers are required to have a fenced outdoor area and barn for when their Guide Horse is off duty. All horses require lots of fresh air, and all Guide Horses live outdoors when not guiding. Since horses are herd animals, they are happier when they have a friend to come home to after work.
While some horses are fine living alone with their handler, many Guide Horse programs will places a companion horse with each Guide Horse.Guide Horses and service dogs share the same extremely high level of training, though may use different training methods. All Guide Horses must demonstrate 100% proficiency at keeping their handler safe in chaotic traffic. Guide Horses have proven to be exceptionally talented in keeping their handler safe in traffic, partially because their 350 degree range of vision allows them to see traffic in all directions at the same time.
No Guide Horse is placed until their handler can confidently place their life in its control.Training any assistance animal requires an in-depth understanding of animal behavior. Because equine behavior is generic to all horse breeds, any professional horse trainer can start the initial training of the assistance horse, teaching it to accept the harness, and start/stop on command.
Advanced training involves training the horse not to react to environmental distractions, to avoid obstacles and to recognize all potential dangers. The idea is to create a team, person and horse, working together and understanding one another.Training of a Guide Horse includes:The handler, too, will go through an entire training program, from animal care through team training.Though allowed under ADA, Guide Horses are still an experimental mobility option for blind people who do not wish to or cannot use a guide dog.
They are provided by The Guide Horse Foundation, founded in 1999 to provide miniature horses as assistance animals to blind users living in rural environments.