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A non-profit charity dedicated to providing free guides for visually impaired individuals.

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Patricia Cornwell with Trip, one of the horses she donated to the guide Horse Foundation

Patricia Cornwell with Trip

Don and Janet Burleson - Copyright 2000 by Lisa Carpenter

Copyright © 2000 by Lisa Carpenter

Dan with Cuddles - Copyright (c) 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald
Copyright © 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald

Cuddles in Harness - Copyright (c) 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald

Copyright © 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald

Don and Janet with Trip and Ras

Copyright © 2000 by Lisa Carpenter

Cuddles on the first flight of a horse on a commercial flight

Copyright © 2001 by Erik Lesser
The worlds first horse to fly in the passenger cabin

Cuddles guiding Dan Shaw

Copyright © 2001 by Erik Lesser

Cuddles at Lunch

Copyright © 2001 by Erik Lesser


Copyright © 2001 by Wiley Miller

 

 

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March 17, 2004, 6:53PM

Plenty of horse sense makes pony a proven leader

By MARY VUONG
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Since Pal arrived in into town, he's been to Wal-Mart, Lowe's, restaurants, an elementary school and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Not bad for a horse wandering about in baby shoes.

Pal is the first guide horse in Texas, say Janet and Don Burleson, who run the Guide Horse Foundation in Kittrell, N.C. The Burlesons were here last week3/9 to follow up with Donna Grahmann, a Magnolia resident and the horse's owner since December.

At 157 pounds and 29 1/2 inches tall, Pal is the fourth miniature horse the couple has trained to function as a guide animal.dog. He obeys 23 voice commands, detects changes in elevation, finds doorways and watches for potential dangers. He wears the baby-sized athletic shoes for added traction on waxed floors.

Visiting downtown Houston last week, Pal exuded great calm amid the noise, traffic and bewildered stares from passers-by.But "when we got him right off the ranch," his trainers say, "he was wild as a deer."

The greatest advantage to using horses over dogs is longevity. Horses they can live last up to three times as long, longer, Don Burleson says. Horses also have eyes on the sides of their heads that allow them to see nearly 360 degrees.

But "not every horse has what it takes," notes Janet Burleson, a retired professional horse trainer.

Each needs to be "100 percent proficient," her husband adds.

Especially when it comes to "intelligent disobedience." A horse must be smart enough to prevent its owner from entering an elevator if the cage is nowhere in sight or crossing the street if a car is heading toward them despite a walk signal to proceed.

It takes 400 to 600 hours to teach a horse to lead the blind and visually impaired. The Burlesons say that's less time than it takes to train dogs, which require puppy socialization skills.

The first horse they trained was named Twinkie. During trips to a flea market in Raleigh, the couple began noticing that Don Burleson's personal pet would steer them clear of hazards such as electrical cords.

They kept Twinkie but placed the next two horses in Maine and Pennsylvania. The nonprofit foundation provides gives the animals at no charge to the blind and visually impaired, and operates on donations.

Eighty people are on the waiting list, but the trainers are in no rush to match them with horses.

"We still consider it experimental," Janet Burleson says."We haven't encouraged a great many people to try it."

Grahmann seems a natural fit. She's a former competitive rider and also owns numerous animals, including a miniature horse she acquired to keep Pal her guide company.

"As long as I'm alive and (Pal's) still able to work," she says, "we'll be together."

For more information on the guide horse program, visit www.guidehorse.org 

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The Guide Horse Foundation has the utmost respect for The Seeing Eye® and their seventy-two years of outstanding work with assistance animals for the blind. Even though the press often calls our horses "seeing eye horses", please note that The Guide Horse Foundation is not affiliated with or sanctioned by the Seeing-Eye® or any of the Guide Dog training organizations. Seeing-Eye® is a registered trademark of the Seeing-Eye, Inc.

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