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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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Couple betting on horses (yes, horses) to guide blind
Twinkie in Crabtree mall Staff Photo By Robert Miller Janet Burleson with Twinkie, a miniature guide horse during a public training session at Crabtree Valley mall.

Thursday, August 5, 1999


     KITTRELL -- The scene does seem a little absurd. Laughable, even. But Janet Burleson keeps her jaw set, as she parades around the back yard. Twinkie the miniature horse leads her around various obstacles in the yard.
     Twinkie is wearing a little outfit, which seems appropriate for the world's first guide horse. It's part harness, part cape, and reads, "Service Animal In Training." When she wears it, she is not to eat, play or be petted.
     Right now, Twinkie is demonstrating her skills. She obeys Janet Burleson's commands, and steers around the fence. She's the first of her kind.
     "Look at her," Janet's husband, Don, says proudly as he watches from the patio. "Beautiful."
     By day, the Burlesons are mild-mannered computer specialists. In their off time they train horses and plan to change the world. Here is the upshot of what they propose: Guide mini-horses will revolutionize the way blind people get around.
     Stranger things have happened. Capuchin monkeys, for example, can perform complex services for disabled people. "They're very smart monkeys," said Julio Marques, who researches animal intelligence at the University of Illinois. "They can open doors, bring you a drink, answer the phone. Everything."
     Then there was the famous Guide Parrot in California. He would run from side to side on his owner's shoulders, ringing tiny bells to indicate in what direction to walk.
     That's fine, you might say. But when it comes to leading the blind, what's wrong with the good old-fashioned German shepherd?
     For starters, both dogs and horses cost about $25,000 to buy and train. But dogs must retire after about 10 years, whereas horses can put in 30. Also, horses have huge eyes, on the sides of their heads, so they can see about 350 degrees -- a view that includes everything but their own tails. Also, they don't get fleas, and don't shed as much as a pooch.
     Mini-horses are a little more than 2 feet tall and can be kept by anyone with a small yard. "Yeah," Don Burleson says with a chuckle. "Good-bye lawn mower."

Twinkie in the Mini Van
Staff Photo By Robert MillerAndrew Burleson hands the keys to his father, Don Burleson, as they leave a training session for Twinkie at Crabtree Valley Mall.

Don Burleson says the idea of guide mini-horses came to him when a horse he was riding in New York City stopped on its own accord at a red light. He now has four minis, and regularly takes Twinkie to Crabtree Valley Mall for training sessions. "Kids love her," he says.
     Animal authorities were skeptical but curious when they heard of Burleson's experiment. Most thought it was a joke. Debbie Jackson works with the state Division of Services for the Blind, and tried hard to get her mind around the concept, but snickered just the same. "Little ... horses ... right?" she said Wednesday. "Well, now, that is intriguing."
     She said the DSB would be interested in hosting a demonstration by Twinkie.
     Russell Post, head trainer for Guiding Eyes -- perhaps the largest dog-training school in the world -- said he would send a representative from New York to see such a demonstration. "Oh, most definitely," he said, when he figured out the Burlesons were for real. "My receptionist told me about it, and we've had some pretty bad jokes flying around here."
     Beyond the novelty of the idea, Post said, guide mini-horses hold little promise. He gave a long list of decisions guide dogs make moment to moment, and challenged any horse to do the same. "I've never known a horse that couldn't be spooked," Post said. "And when you're standing in the middle of a four-lane highway, there's a lot of spookiness. Also, dogs can be house trained."




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Training Miniature Horses as Guide Animals for the Blind

Janet Burleson

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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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