Seeing-Eye Horses?

Bloged in Guide horse by admin Monday February 12, 2007

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Well, I watched the Super Bowl with eyes wide open for
Budweiser’s Clydesdale commercial, and almost missed it.
Not because I wasn’t in the room, but because the
Clydesdales were barely in the commercial.

The commercial featured a down-in-the-mouth white mongrel
dog who, after getting splattered with mud from a passing
car, notices his reflection in a storefront window.
Recognizing that he now closely resembles the Dalmatian
seated by the driver of the Budweiser Beer Wagon passing
by in a parade, he seized the moment.

In the next shot we see the mongrel dog on the wagon
driver’s other side, and a very fleeting glimpse of the
Clydesdale hitch. The ad closes with one of the beauty
queens riding atop the wagon leaning forward to plant a
kiss on the mongrel’s head.

Let me make very clear that I am a dog lover, and have
rescued more than one stray in my time. But I am a bit
miffed at, after waiting all year for the new commercial,
seeing the Clydesdales playing second fiddle to a dog.

But, as I was surfing around the Internet this morning I
found a website featuring some horses who are giving the
canine community something of a comeuppance. And they
could not be further from the Clydesdales.

The site belongs to the Guide Horse Foundation, and they
are not promoting horses for trail guides. They are
devoted to the training of miniature horses to act as
guide animals for disabled people. And believe it or not,
there is a real demand for the tiny equines to fill the
roles traditionally assigned to dogs.

There have never been enough guide dogs to go around, and
the guide horses, since the Guide Horse program began in
1999, have shown real promise in helping blind people gain
some mobility. They have gained a reputation for being
friendly, yet not easily excited when working in a crowd.

And the Guide Horses are a great solution for blind people
who could not get a dog because of allergies.

Those horse experts who have studied the behavior of horse
herds report that if one of the animals loses sits sight,
another will begin to act as a “guide” and keep it with
the herd. Horses apparently have a natural guide
instinct, as anyone who had given their horse its head
after a day the trail knows. The animal will find its way
back to the barn without any help whatsoever.

And the miniature horses have another huge advantage over
guide dogs: they normally live between thirty and forty
years. Most guide dogs can be successful working animals
for between eight and twelve years before they have to
retire, and unfortunately for their owners who have become
so attached, of the do not live much past that point.

Because training a guide dog can be prohibitively
expensive, only seven thousand of the 1.3 million legally
blind Americans have one. Guide horses may prove much
more economical to train, and be available to a far
greater number of people.

Finally, a guide horse will be immediately recognizable as
a working animal, letting its owner avoid the difficulties
that sometimes arise when brining eve a guide a dog to a
public place.

There are drawbacks, of course; a guide horse will require
pasture and shelter, and while the miniature horses can be
trained to put it off for a while, they do need to relieve
themselves more frequently than dogs. And a guide horse
would not fit into public transportation as easily as a
dog.

The Guide Horse Foundation still considers their training
program to be in the experimental stage, but does offer
online applications for those who think they would benefit
from having a miniature horse as a companion guide.

You can learn all about the program at

http://www.guidehorse.com

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