Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
I must admit that I was taken by surprise to find out that miniature horses are being trained to aid the disabled. Apparently, the Justice Department has broadened its definition of service animals to include the small equine after being petitioned and convinced about their support value.
They have many advantages over the conventional service dog. They are stronger; a horse can pull someone in a wheelchair or lift someone to a standing position much easier than a dog. They live a great deal longer, about 25-35 years, so it is conceivable that one horse will stay with its owner for a lifetime.
Horses are smart, they have excellent eyesight and hearing, they are usually gentle, and easy to train. It is said that they can be housebroken. They have great stamina and are naturally cautious animals. Many people prefer them to dogs. They are a viable alternative to people allergic to dogs or opposed to using dogs because of religious beliefs.
There are some people who are better candidates for these animals than others are. Obviously, someone who has been around horses and who understands the type of care that they require makes the best fit. They also work well with a disabled person who prefers an animal that can be kept outside or someone who is afraid of dogs. They are great for anyone with physical disabilities as they are easy to handle and stalwart enough to assist with lifting and pulling.
Then there is the other side to consider. Even though it is claimed that they can be housebroken, many horse experts disagree. There have been lawsuits filed against businesses that refuse to let the little ponies in their establishments. There are sanitation issues that prevent restaurants from being compliant. Additionally, it is surprising and sometimes uncomfortable for their customers to find themselves shopping or eating in the company of horses. They are still regarded as outdoor animals.
The American Miniature Horse Association is largely opposed to the use of miniature horses. They say that they do not breed the miniatures to be used in this capacity. Despite their excellent qualities, they are innately horses. Like their larger counterparts, they are meant to lead or be ridden.
There are approximately 200,000 horses trained and registered with The Guide Horse Foundation. Most of those are outside the United States. There is a shortage of guide dogs and miniature horses are filling that void. The Guide Horse Foundation depends on volunteers to help train and horses are given free of charge to those that qualify.