The Guide Horse Foundation

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The Mission:

Our mission is to provide a safe, cost-effective and reliable mobility alternative for visually impaired people and to deliver trained Guide Horses at no cost to the recipient. We also have the goal of helping the tiny horses by providing them with a higher-purpose in life.

The Program:

In early experiments, Guide Horses have shown great promise as a mobility option, and  people who have tried Guide Horses report that the Guide Horses perform exceptionally well at keeping their person safe. 

These friendly horses provide an additional mobility option for the blind. People who have tried Guide Horses report that the horses demonstrate excellent judgment  and are not easily distracted by crowds and people.

Guide horses are not for everyone, but there is a strong demand for Guide Horses among blind horse lovers, those who are allergic to dogs, and those who want a guide animal with a long lifespan. 


An international Poll by the Discovery Channel showed that 27% of respondents would prefer a Guide Horse if they required a guide animal.


Who is the Ideal Guide Horse Owner?

The following types of people have expressed high interest in having a Guide Horse:


Why use a horse?

There are many compelling reasons to use horses as guide animals. Horses are natural guide animals and have been guiding humans for centuries. In nature, horses have been shown to possess a natural guide instinct. When another horse goes blind in a herd, a sighted horse accepts responsibility for the welfare of the blind horse and guides it with the herd. With humans, many blind people ride horses in equestrian competitions. Some blind people ride alone on trails for many miles, completely relying on the horse to guide them safely to their destination. Through history, Cavalry horses have been known to guide their injured rider to safety. The Guide Horse Foundation finds several characteristics of horses that make them suitable to guide the blind:


The Guide Horse Foundation relies on volunteers to donate, train and deliver trained Guide Horses free-of-charge to visually impaired individuals. To contact the Guide Horse Foundation via email, please click on the link below:


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. 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.

 

Training Pigmy Horses  as Guide Animals

In 1999, Janet and Don Burleson completed a successful feasibility study with pigmy horses as assistance animals for the visually disabled. Janet is a retired professional horse trainer with over 30 years of full-time horse training experience and an extensive record of success in training performance horses. 

While Don and Janet Burleson only intended to develop a training program, they were overwhelmed with requests from blind horse lovers asking for a trained Guide Horse. Although she was confident in her skills as a retired professional horse trainer, Janet Burleson needed to learn what a guide animal must know in order to keep their handler safe.  

The initial training has shown great promise, and two tiny Guide Horses have already been trained to guide blind people in public. The prototype, a 14 year-old dwarf mare horse named Twinkie, has successfully guided blind people in a host of environments, including shopping malls and congested urban areas with heavy traffic. Nine other horses are currently undergoing training, and the Guide Horse Foundation also has a substantial waiting list of blind people who have applied for a Guide Horse.

Once the Guide Horse Foundation announced the result of their feasibility study, the ability of horses to guide the blind was confirmed from a number of independent sources. We received numerous responses from blind people who ride horses, both in competitions and on trails, and they confirmed our findings that the horse is a capable guide. One blind woman  stated that she sometimes uses her full-sized horse as her Guide Horse. She says that her horse makes allowances for her needs and walks beside her for miles in the woods, gently nudging her whenever she strays from the trail.


Horse Intelligence Testing

All candidate horses for the Guide Horse program are given a field intelligence test prior to acceptance into the Guide Horse program. Guide Horse training is mentally demanding on the horse, and the Guide Horse Foundation only accepts horses that demonstrate the cognitive ability to successfully complete the training program.


Horse Training Theory

While horses do not possess complex reasoning skills, pigmy horses are quite intelligent and excel at tasks that require long-term memory skills.  There has been a great deal of research into the cognitive psychology of horses, most notably by the Equine Research Foundation of Horse Learning and Behavior.  They have done extensive clinical research on horse intelligence and are most noted for proving the theorem that a horses ability to learn is directly proportional to their prior learning.  In other words, the more a horse learns, the greater their capacity for future learning.  Noted animal learning expert, Professor Emeritus Frank A. Logan also provides comments regarding horse learning.


The Guide Horse training approach

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.  

While no formal documentation exists for training guide horses, our trainers use the horse training methods and techniques developed from a variety of sources. Don and Janet employ some techniques developed by John Lyons, a world-renowned horse trainer.  Don and Janet also rely on the basic principles of operant conditioning, and apply the animal training concepts originally described by B. F. Skinner, the famous behavioral psychologist.

Even though horse training is vastly different from dog training, the Guide Horse Foundation worked closely with guide dog trainers, orientation and mobility specialists and experienced guide dog users to understand what a guide animal needs to know to keep their handler safe at all times.  The Guide Horse Foundation also performed exhaustive research, studying all available training methods and techniques from the major guide dog training schools throughout the world.

Guide Horse Training involves the following areas of training:

- Basic Lead Training - This involves training the Guide Horse to move forward at an appropriate speed and respond to verbal commands. The Guide Horse is also trained to negotiate everyday obstacles, and they learn to enter escalators, elevators, climb stairs, and lie down on command.

- Voice Command Recognition - The guide horse is trained to respond to 23 voice commands, enabling the handler to direct the guide in any circumstance.

- Stationary Obstacle Avoidance - A guide horse must be able to alert the handler to obstacles in their path. Pigmy horses avoid obstacles quite naturally, and only need to be taught that the handler is an appendage of themselves. In this way, the horse is taught to avoid low overheads and other stationary obstacles. The horse must be able to navigate sidewalks and streets, avoiding all obstacles, including any protrusions that may injure its handler. The Guide Horses must also be able to ignore all distractions while guiding, and all Guide Horses are thoroughly trained and tested to ensure that they will not "spook and run" while guiding.

- Moving Obstacle Avoidance - This phase of training requires the Guide Horse to avoid any moving obstacles that threaten to impede their path.  These obstacles include pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles, and any moving object that may impede the progress of the handler.  This is one of the most important areas of guide training and this training requires the Guide Horses to demonstrate absolute proficiency before graduation.

- Surface Elevation Change Recognition - This phase of training requires the Guide Horse to recognize and signal the handler upon approaching any change in surface elevation, including ramps, steps, stairs and curbs.  This involves training the Guide Horse to signal the handler and pause upon reaching any steps or curbs, thus signaling the handler that a step-up or step-down will be required.  Because the Guide Horse walks two paces ahead of the handler, the handler learns to accurately time the point at which the step begins.

- Housebreaking - Despite common belief, horses do possess bladder control, and many horses develop the habit of "going" only in a specific area. For excursions under 6 hours, the guide horse can be relied upon to maintain bladder control. Just as dog owners are required to utilize pooper-scoopers, Guide Horses on long excursions can be fitted with a plastic lined poop-bag that catches droppings and allows for easy disposal. 

- Intelligent Disobedience - The Guide Horse is trained to disregard any commands from their handler that would be unsafe for either the Guide Horse or the Handler.  This is the phase of training where the horse is taught to rely on their judgment to keep their owner safe at all times. 


The Handler training approach

When candidates are evaluated for acceptance into the Guide Horse program they must demonstrate proficiency with basic orientation and mobility skills.  While the vast majority of the candidates are experienced guide dog or cane users, we require all candidates to undergo basic training to ensure their ability to use their Guide Horse.  

Only certified handlers are allowed to use a Guide Horse, even in training situations.  The handler training phase includes the following phases and activities:

Phase I: Candidate Evaluation

Prior to acceptance into the Guide Horse program, all candidates are evaluated for their orientation and mobility skills.

- The Juno Walk - All candidates are evaluated for their ability to use a guide animal by walking with an artificial Guide Horse named Juno.  The candidates are evaluated to ensure that they will be able to communicate with a guide animal before being allowed to begin training with a live Guide Horse.

- Orientation and Mobility Skills - The Guide Horse Foundation requires all candidates to attend certified orientation and mobility courses to ensure that each candidate possesses basic orientation skills.

Phase II: Introductory Training

During this phase the candidate attends classroom training and basic lead training.

- Animal Care Training - All candidates will attended lectures by a licensed equine Veterinarian, a horse care specialist and a farrier to completely understand the proper care, feeding grooming and housing for their Guide Horse.

- Orientation and Mobility Refresher Training - The Guide Horse Foundation hires certified orientation and mobility trainers to ensure that each candidate can demonstrate basic orientation skills.

- Basic Lead Training - All candidates are evaluated for their ability to effectively communicate with a guide animal.  The candidates learn the 23 voice commands and are tested to ensure that they understand how signals are communicated through the harness and reins before being allowed to begin training with a live Guide Horse.

Upon passing the testing for this phase, the candidate becomes certified as an apprentice handler, and they are allowed to use a live Guide Horse in a training setting.

Phase III: Advanced Training

This phase involves team selection and advanced training of the new Guide team.

- Team Selection - Following basic training, the apprentice handlers are given the opportunity to work as a team with several Guide Horses.  While each Guide horse is multi-gated, there are still variations in "feel", speed, pressure and personality between Guide Horses. The team selection process relies on the evaluation of the apprentice handler and the trainer, and both the apprentice handler and trainer work toward selecting the best-fit team in terms of disposition, personality and performance. At the end of this phase the apprentice handler will have chosen a suitable Guide Horse.

- Team Training - This is the final phase of training and focuses on the training of the candidate and horse as a team.  During this phase the team demonstrates proficiency with the 23 voice commands and learns to read signals from the Guide Horse via changes to rein and handle pressure.  Once bonded, the team undergoes extensive training, especially in the areas of street crossing and intelligent disobedience.  The team must demonstrate absolute proficiency at potentially dangerous situations such as street crossings before graduating from this phase of training. The apprentice handler is also taught to maintain the proficiency of the Guide to ensure that training does not degrade after delivery.

Phase IV: Delivery and certification of the team

Only after the successful completion of all areas of training is the apprentice handler graduated to "handler" status, and the handler and the Guide Horse are then certified as a team by the Guide Horse Foundation.

- Home Area Training - The final stage of training involves traveling with the handler to their home.  The team is then evaluated on their home turf and the trainer ensures that the new team is able to negotiate all of the regular travels for the team.

- Follow-up visits - Following delivery of the team, the trainer conducts periodic follow-ups to make sure that the team continues to be safe and effective.  If the handler experiences any problem, the handler may visit the team for additional on-site training.

 

Frequently Asked Guide Horse Foundation Questions

This is a list of the most frequently asked questions about the Guide Horse Foundation. If your question is not on this list, please feel free to e-mail us with your question.

What is the cost of training a Guide Horse?

The costs associated with the acquisition and training of any Guide animal are not trivial.  At this time, all horses are donated free-of-charge and volunteers do all training. The costs of training a Guide Horse also includes the costs for transportation to the applicant for an on-site interview, transportation of the student to the Guide Horse Foundation for three weeks of on-site training, the costs of transporting the student and their guide back to their home, and the costs of transporting the trainer to the student’s home for final training. All of this is provided at no cost to the recipient of the Guide Horse.

Who pays the costs for the Guide Horse Foundation?

The Guide Horse Foundation relies on donations from individuals and corporations to cover all of the costs associated with the training and delivery of the Guide Horse. At this time, all training services are provided by volunteers, but we hope to acquire the funding to hire a full-time professional horse trainer. In this manner, the Guide Horse Foundation is able to supply Guide Horses to the blind free-of-charge.

Do the blind people pay for their Guide Horse?

Guide Horses are given free to blind individuals after graduation from the Guide Horse training program.

What are the requirements to qualify to receive a Guide Horse?

The Guide Horse foundation accepts applicants based upon many factors. One of the foremost factors is the existing mobility of the blind person and their frequency of use of the Guide. A candidate who takes long daily walks with their cane and uses the horse every day would be an ideal candidate.

Does the blind person own their Guide Horse?

The handler has the right to use the horse's service for life. The Guide Horse Foundation does reserve the right to take the horse back under extreme circumstances. We would only do so if the horse were being abused, neglected, exploited or endangered in any way, or if the horse were being used in a way that placed the handler at risk. If the handler's lifestyle or capability changes in such a way to prohibit continued use of the horse as a Guide we would assess the individual circumstances and the relationship between handler and horse as well as the wishes of the handler, before determining whether or not to retrieve the horse to serve a new handler. If the handler does not want to keep the horse for any reason, The Guide Horse Foundation will take the horse back. When the horse is retired the handler has the option of keeping it as a companion or returning it to the foundation for retirement. The handler does not have the right to sell the Guide horse under any circumstances.

How do I mention the Guide Horse Foundation in my Will?

You may bequeath cash, securities, bonds or Real property to the Guide Horse Foundation.  For substantial donations, a perpetual endowment will be established in your name, and the Guide will be presented to their handlers as a gift from your estate.

The Guide Horse Foundation also provides a Living-Will arrangement where you can donate your home to the Guide Horse Foundation, realize a substantial tax deduction, and retain the right to live in your home tax-free for your entire lifetime.

To include the Guide Horse Foundation in your Will, ask your attorney to specify that your endowment shall be given to the Guide Horse Foundation, with our full name and mailing address. Upon registering your Will, have your attorney mail a copy of your Will to the Guide Horse Foundation.

 

Frequently Asked Horse Questions

This is a list of the most frequently asked questions about Guide Horses. If your question is not on this list, please feel free to e-mail us with your question.

How long do Horses live?

Horses commonly live to be 25 - 35 years old, and some live to be over 50 years-old. Angel, a dwarf miniature horse who lives with the Horse Protection Society of North Carolina, is almost 50 years-old

How small is the smallest horse?

According to Del Tera Miniature Horse Farm of Imman South Carolina , the smallest horse in recorded history was a stallion named "Little Pumpkin." He stood 14 inches tall and weighed only 20 lbs.  However, the Guiness Book of World records lists Hope for Tomorrow as the worlds smallest horse at 21 inches tall.

How small was the smallest breeding stallion?

According to the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA), the smallest breeding stallion in America was Bond Tiny Tim.  In the AMHA Online stud book, Bond Tiny Tim is listed as a stallion measuring only 19 inches tall. Bond Tiny Tim was bred extensively and appears in the pedigrees of hundreds of tiny horses in the USA.

What is the criteria for a horse to be chosen for service as a Guide Horse?

Prior to acceptance into the Guide Horse training program, all horses are required to pass a thorough physical examination by a licensed Equine Veterinarian. Size is also an issue, and all horses must measure less than 26 inches high at the withers to enable accessibility for their blind owner. They must also possess structurally sound legs, good health and demonstrable stamina. Only those horses certified sound and healthy by the Veterinarian are accepted into the program. All Guide Horses are also tested for intelligence prior to entry into the training program. During training, the horses undergo periodic physicals to ensure their continual health and soundness. The GHF only accepts horses that are capable of meeting the rigorous physical demands of the program. 

What happens to horses that are not certified as physically capable for guide work?

Donated horses that are not certified physically capable for use as Guide Horses are placed in private homes as companion animals or pets.

Is Twinkie a Guide Horse?

Twinkie, a thirteen year-old 24" dwarf horse, is the personal pet of Don and Janet Burleson. Twinkie was the inspiration for the Guide Horse program and assisted in the initial development of the training technique. While Twinkie has been trained to guide blind individuals and is in excellent health, our Veterinary Physician determined that Twinkie does not possess the agility required for service as a Guide Horse. Now retired, Twinkie remains a cherished pet and serves as the mascot of the Guide Horse program.

Do horses smell bad?

The natural odor of a horse is not strong, and the Guide Horses can be kept virtually odor-free with regular grooming and periodic bathing. Guide Horses are trained to stand still for bathing, and they enjoy standing outside on a warn day for a bath and grooming. Due to the danger from falling, it is not recommended that the horse use a shower or bath unless it is wearing rubber shoes or the surface has a non-slip coating.

What do horses eat?

Grasses and grains are the natural food of the horse. Horses can survive on lush grass and make excellent lawn mowers. Hay is a suitable substitute when grass is not available.  A small quantity of crimped oats completes the daily nutritional regimen. In addition, horses should have access to a daily source of free choice salt and trace minerals. An easy way to provide this is with free access to a brick of plain salt and a brick of trace mineral salt.

Horses should always have access to clean cool water.  It should also be noted that all horses possess a sweet-tooth, and are fond of apples, candy, soda and breakfast cereal. The owner must be very careful not to overfeed their horse or to feed them too many treats. 

A veterinarian should be consulted to determine the exact nutritional needs of each individual horse.

What is colic?

Horses cannot vomit, whatever goes in must pass all the way through the digestive system. The number-one cause of preventable death of  horses is colic, a severe and painful digestive system irritation that can  kill a horse if not treated promptly. 

Do pigmy horses bite and kick?

In their natural setting, horses will naturally bite and kick as a means of establishing dominance within their herd. When a Guide Horse bonds with the owner after training, the owner will be perceived as the herd leader, and the horse will never bite or kick except when attacked. An aggressive horse would not remain in the Guide Horse program.

Are Guide horses spooky and flighty?

The individual temperament of horses varies widely. Part of the Guide Horse training involves acclimation to sudden unexpected noises. They are trained to remain calm even in noisy chaotic situations. Guide Horses readily accept new experiences. An unusually nervous horse would not be accepted as a participant in the Guide Horse program. For additional safety, all Guide Horses undergo the same systematic desensitization training that is given to riot-control horses.

Do Guide Horses make good companions?

Guide Horses do not possess the same craving for affection that is seen in dogs. This allows them to remain focused on their Guide work, but it does not mean that they are not affectionate. Horses enjoy being groomed, brushed, rubbed and scratched. 

When off-duty, the Guide Horse will often follow their owner around, seeking their companionship and affection. Guide Horses love to be scratched and petted and enjoy sharing the daily activities of their owner. Many Guide Horses who live in the house enjoy lying on couches and beds, and they can be trained to sleep quietly beside their owners at night. Rubbing the horse's tummy helps it to fall asleep.

Do pigmy horses play?

As foals, Guide Horses play extensively, running and chasing other foals, and playing with large balls. As they mature they lose interest in play, but they can still enjoy games. One of the favorite games for adult Guide Horses is bobbing for apples. You simply fill a toddler pool with six inches of water, and drop in two apples. 

Do horses sit?

Sitting is not natural or comfortable for a horse. Horses generally only sit up after lying down. However, sometimes a Guide Horse will act like a dog. For example, Cuddles, the Guide Horse for Dan Shaw, will lift her hind leg and scratch her ear, just like a dog.

How much Vet care do pigmy horses require?

Vet care for a horse is comparable to that of a dog. Yearly immunizations are required, and bi-monthly de-worming is required to keep the horse healthy and protected from disease. A de-wormer (such as Ivermectin) can be administrated orally by the owner. The horse also needs a farrier to trim their hooves every six to eight weeks.

Does a pigmy horse need to be groomed?

Horses shed twice per year, once in the spring as they lose their winter coats, and again in the fall as their winter coat grows in. The tiny horses love to be brushed, and owners are encouraged to brush their horse daily. Horses can be bathed occasionally, but bathing too frequently will dry out their skin.

Do horses get fleas?

No. Fleas have a natural aversion to horse skin so they do not get fleas.

How much does the average Guide Horse weigh?

The horses chosen for Guide Horse training weigh approximately 55-100 pounds.

How did these horses get to be so small?

While the exact origins of tiny horses have been obscured over the centuries, early incunabula texts refer to tiny horses being kept as prized companions of Hapsburg royalty as early as the 17th century. Just as dogs have been bred to be small, centuries of selective breeding have resulted in small horses with calm dispositions.

What is a dwarf horse and a midget horse?

In the opinion of many Veterinarians, all midget horses possess some of the genetic markers for dwarfism. Equine dwarfism is a relatively rare occurrence in large horses, but it is far more common in horses who have been bred exclusively for small size. Animal research indicates that there are more than 320 separate and distinct types of dwarfism, each with a unique genetic marker and characteristics. Unfortunately, many breeders in the horse industry categorize all congenital anomalies as a singular condition of dwarfism, and this misconception has fostered an overgeneralization regarding equine dwarfism. Some types of equine achondroplastic dwarfism have specific physical characteristics such as short limbs and bulging forehead, but do not adversely effect the intelligence or lifespan of the horse. Other forms of equine dwarfism such as diastrophic dysplasia dwarfism are characterized by severe orthopedic deficiencies and a host of other physical problems. In short, all tiny horses exhibit some of the clinical degree of dwarfism, and their small size is the inevitable result of selective inbreeding for size. Of course, all horses submitted to the Guide Horse Foundation must pass a complete physical examination and possess the intelligence and stamina to complete the training program.

Are pigmy horses a recognized horse breed?

With no recognized standard for miniaturized horses, dozens of separate registries emerged for tiny horses, each with their own standards for conformation and size.  Some registries are concerned solely with the size of the horse or their coat coloration, while other registries reject tiny horses on the basis of their physical conformation, with subjective criteria for dwarfs, midgets, and genetic mutants.  The Guide Horse Foundation is not affiliated with any of the horse registries and treats each of them with equal respect and consideration. Click here for a list of the top 20 registries for tiny horses.

Why don't you call them mini horses?

Over the past 100 years there has been a great amount of disagreement regarding the origins and genetic characteristics of miniaturized horses.  Some tiny horse breeds such as the Falabella horses of Argentina were developed in a totally separate environment from the tiny European horses of the eighteenth century, and independent breeding programs have been established on every continent.  In the USA in the 1960s, these horses were called midget ponies, while in South America they were known as Falabella horses.  In the 1970s a movement arose to change the name of tiny horses to miniature horses, and registries were established with standard sizes ranging from 28 inches to 38 inches.  Because our Guide Horses are considerably smaller than miniature horses, we call them pigmy horses, both out of respect for the miniature horse registries and to ensure that the Guide Horses are not confused with any one of the numerous registry standards for miniature horses. 

How well do horses see?

Horses possess amazing vision. With their eyes mounted squarely on the sides of their heads, they possess nearly 350 degree vision. They are also extremely sensitive to motion in their field of vision and often detect a potential hazard before their sighted trainers. Guide Horses also have excellent night vision and can see clearly in almost total darkness.

Can a Guide Horse be trained to assist deaf people?

Horses are not well suited for assisting the hearing impaired. Horses do not possess the "watch dog" instinct which is important for a hearing assistance animal. 

Why don't you call them seeing-eye horses?

The Seeing Eye is a registered trademark of The Seeing Eye, Inc. The Guide Horse Foundation is not affiliated with the Seeing Eye, but has great respect for their wonderful work with the visually impaired.

How well adapted are horses to chaotic city environments?

When we visit Manhattan we like to rent horses to ride in Central Park, and we rent from a livery stable which is located several blocks from the Park. You have to ride the horses through that scary Manhattan traffic to reach the Park and then to return to the stable at the end of the ride. We were amazed by the horses acceptance of the chaotic Manhattan traffic. They understand the traffic patterns and safety measures, and easily merge with taxicabs and commuters while safely adhering to proper street etiquette.

I like to walk fast.  Will a Guide Horse be too slow for me?

All Guide Horses are trained as three-gaited horses.  That is, they are trained to guide at three separate speeds.  The handler uses voice commands to adjust the speed of the Guide Horse, from slow walk to walk, and walk to trot, and can adjust the speed of their Guide Horse, in the same fashion that an automobile driver shifts gears.

 

Frequently Asked Training Questions

This is a list of the most frequently asked questions about the training of Guide Horses. If your question is not on this list, please feel free to e-mail us with your question.

How smart are horses?

While horses do not possess complex reasoning skills, pigmy horses are quite intelligent and excel at tasks that require long-term memory skills.  There is been a great deal of research into the cognitive psychology of horses, most notably by Dr. Evelyn Hanggi of the Equine Research Foundation of Horse Learning and Behavior.  Dr. Hanggi has done extensive clinical research on horse intelligence and is most noted for proving the theorem that a horses ability to learn is directly proportional to their prior learning.  In other words, the more a horse learns, the greater their capacity for future learning.  Noted animal learning expert, Professor Emeritus Frank A. Logan also provides comments regarding horse learning. All Guide Horse candidates must pass a field intelligence test prior to acceptance into the Guide Horse program.

Can Guide Horses be taught to fetch and retrieve?

 Horses are herd animals by nature and it is not natural for them to fetch items. However, with proper training a horse can be taught to do almost anything. The famous Arabian Dervish was taught to sit, lie down, pull up a blanket, turn out the light and go to sleep. Dervish appeared on the NBC Tonight Show to demonstrate his skills.

Jay Evans, an Arabian Horse trainer, has trained a retrieving Arabian Stallion named Namoniet to catch a Frisbee with great success. Jay is still working on getting Namoniet to throw the Frisbee.

Can Guide Horses ride in vehicles?

Yes. All Guide Horses are trained to ride in passenger vehicles, and some are trained to enter taxi cabs, busses and subway trains. 

Is it easy to train a Guide Horse?

Guide Horse training is one of the most demanding equine disciplines and always requires an experienced professional horse trainer. To be absolutely safe, Guide Horses are trained at the same achievement level as an advanced dressage horse or a Lippazaner show horse. Because this advanced training requires significant experience, only full-time professional horse trainers are used in the Guide Horse training process. More important, the students must be able to entrust their lives to their Guide Horse, and only a professional horse trainer can certify that a Guide Horse is able to safely guide a blind person.

Can a blind child use a Guide Horse?

A visually disabled person over the age of sixteen can be taught to use and care for a Guide Horse. Younger children are not accepted for training as the person must be able to assume responsibility for the horse's care and discipline.

How do you train a Guide Horse to guide the blind?

While no formal documentation exists for training guide horses, our trainers use horse training methods and techniques from a variety of sources. Some techniques are borrowed from John Lyons, a world-renowned horse trainer.  John Lyons offers a complete library of books and training tapes that illustrate how to teach a horse to willingly perform almost any task. John Lyons' training materials are available at his Web site: http://www.johnlyons.com.  The trainers also rely on the basic principles of operant conditioning, and apply the animal training concepts originally described by B. F. Skinner, the famous behavioral psychologist.

Are Guide Horses suitable for apartment dwellers?

A Guide Horse can be trained to live in an apartment, but they prefer to live outdoors when off-duty. The ideal Guide Horse owner would have a fenced back yard with a lawn for grazing.

Can Guide Horses live outdoors?

Horse are natural outdoor animals and grow a soft wooly coat each fall to protect them against the winter chill. They can be kept outdoors in temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Many horses prefer to have shelter in inclement weather.

How long does it take to train a Guide Horse?

Guide Horse Training normally takes approximately 6 months to one year and involves hundreds of  hours of individualized training.

When can a horse begin training?

A young horse can start Guide Horse training after weaning, generally around six months of age.

Can a Guide Horse use public transportation?

Yes. The American’s with Disabilities Act guarantees the right of any service animal to use public transportation. With proper training, a Guide Horse can be trained to enter taxis, busses and subways.

Can a Guide Horse use escalators and elevators?

Yes. Part of the basic training for all Guide Horses includes elevator and escalator training. However. A Guide horse is trained to choose a ramp instead of using an escalator or stairs wherever possible.

Are Guide Horses compatible with cats and dogs?

A Guide Horse is very compatible with house pets. During their training, a Guide Horse shares common areas with cats and dogs and they learn to get along quite well. However, unsupervised large dogs are a serious threat to Guide Horses. Dogs are predators by nature, and a large dog should never be left alone with a Guide Horse.

Can a Guide Horse be trained to stay home without a fence?

A Guide Horse will have a natural desire to stay with their herd. In a Guide situation, the horse bonds with the blind owner as a herd member, and it will be very reluctant to wander away. The danger with an un-fenced area is the possibility of a predatory stray dog injuring the Guide Horse. It is never acceptable to leave a Guide Horse in an un-fenced area.

Are Guide Horses suitable for city life?

At the dawn of the twentieth century, New York City was the home of more than two million horses. Horses can adapt to almost any circumstances, but the ideal Guide Horse owner will live in a suburban or rural setting.

How do you train a Guide horse not to "spook"?

The Guide Horse Foundation uses the same techniques that have been employed for centuries in training Cavalry horses to remain calm, even in the heat of battle. The GHF also borrows techniques used by police departments in their training of riot control horses. The Guide Horses are systematically desensitized to chaotic and noisy situations and they are trained to ignore threats from other animals when in harness. Horses also look to their leader to know how to respond to a novel event.  In the horse industry this is known as the "lead mare syndrome". In a herd, all horses look to the lead mare to see how she reacts to a new event.  If the lead mare does not exhibit fear, all of the horses will relax. This principle applies to Guide Horse training, and the Guide Horse will not exhibit fear if their trainer is not scared. A Guide Horse is required to "spook in-place" even when surrounded by chaos, and all Guide Horses must pass a test before being certified to guide the blind.

Do Guide Horses develop an attachment for their handlers?

During training the Guide Horse will develop an almost symbiotic relationship with their handler. The Guide Horse will anticipate the desires of the handler and it will appear to spectators that the horse somehow senses the desires of the handler before the command is issued. One of the primary goals of the on-site training is to teach the blind handler to use a guide and then to bond with their horse and act as a team.

Why do Guide Horses sometimes wear sneakers?

Because of their hard hooves, a Guide Horse can slip on slick surfaces such as hardwood floors and waxed floors of stores and shopping malls. Just as guide dogs wear shoes to protect their paws from abrasion, hot pavement, rocks and glass, the Guide Horse may also wear shoes.

Where do you get the tiny sneakers?

There are several commercial manufacturers of tiny horse sneakers.  The first is Sabre Sneakers, who has graciously offered to donate the sneakers for the Guide Horse program.  Sabre Sneakers can be reached at (203) 322-9002.  The other major manufacturer of tiny horse sneakers is Supreme Equine Designs.  They can be reached at (800) 447-6053.

How much does it cost to feed a Guide Horse?

Grass is the natural food for a horse. A Guide Horse will eat approximately one bale of hay each week, for a cost of about four dollars. In addition, the horse is supplemented with a daily soup-can ration of oats that costs about 25 cents. For those with lawns, the hay will only be required during the winter months. Costs will vary with location. A veterinarian should be consulted to determine the exact nutritional needs of each individual horse.

Does a Guide Horse respond to voice commands?

Yes. The basic training of the Guide Horse includes learning 23 voice commands. 

Can Guide Horses be trained to pull a wheelchair?

Yes. The Guide Horse Foundation has conducted preliminary studies of using larger horses to pull a wheelchair. However, the horses selected for the Guide Horse program are too small for be used helping the physically disabled, and the Guide Horse Foundation is presently only training horses to aid the visually impaired.

Can children ride a Guide Horse?

No. Guide Horses are too small to be ridden.

Can Guide Horses be housebroken?

Yes. A Guide Horse can be housebroken. When they need relief, the horses are trained to paw at the door or make nickering noises. After  indoor training, the Guide Horse can be relied upon not to have accidents. Horses that fail the housebreaking lessons are removed from the program.

Why don't you call them seeing eye horses?

The Seeing Eye is a registered trademark of The Seeing Eye, Inc. The Guide Horse Foundation is not affiliated with the Seeing Eye, but has great respect for their wonderful work with the visually impaired.

Can Guide Horses go into public places?

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as any animal that assists the disabled, and it is against Federal law to refuse admittance to any properly trained service animal in a public place, including restaurants, stores and public transportation. Landlords are also prohibited from discriminating against a person with an assistance animal, and pigmy horses acting as service animals are exempt from all local, County and State animal restrictions. Service animals may only be denied entrance if they pose a risk to safety or health or if they disrupt the business. Click here for details on the American with Disabilities Act as it applies to Guide animals.

Does the blind person own their Guide Horse?

The handler has the right to use the horse's service for life. The Guide Horse Foundation does reserve the right to take the horse back under extreme circumstances. We would only do so if the horse were being abused, neglected, exploited or endangered in any way, or if the horse were being used in a way that placed the handler at risk. If the handler's lifestyle or capability changes in such a way to prohibit continued use of the horse as a Guide we would assess the individual circumstances and the relationship between handler and horse as well as the wishes of the handler, before determining whether or not to retrieve the horse to serve a new handler. If the handler does not want to keep the horse for any reason, The Guide Horse Foundation will take the horse back. When the horse is retired the handler has the option of keeping it as a companion or returning it to the foundation for retirement. The handler does not have the right to sell the Guide horse under any circumstances.

Does the Guide Horse have to be used frequently?

One of the benefits to a Guide horse is that it does not have to be used daily to stay trained. The handler could use the horse when necessary and allow it to graze in peace when not needed. After a handler has been approved to pair with a Guide horse, we do not require a specific amount of use of the Guide horse. During the selection process we do try to approve applicants that we believe will get the most benefit from the service of a Guide horse.

Is it hard to give-up your horses when they are delivered?

When you work closely with an animal for hundreds of hours it is impossible not to get attached to the horses. However, we have the reassurance that each horse is going to a loving and committed home, and our on-site training of the student's ensures that they understand how to care for their horse. We also provide follow-up visits, so we get to visit them from time to time.

What do like best about training Guide Horses?

We especially like the enthusiasm of our students and seeing first-hand how their Guide Horses give them freedom and brighten their lives. We are also happy and honored to be a part of the re-introduction of horses into human society, and we are thrilled to see horses once again helping mankind travel further and faster than before.

What television shows, newspapers, and magazines have you appeared in?

We have appeared on Ripley's Believe It or Not!  The Fox News Network, CNN, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, Pet Project, Amazing Animals, Discovery Science News, Das Explosive (German TV), The Today Show, To Tell the Truth, Time magazine, People Magazine, The National Enquirer, National Examiner, Sunday Mail, the London Daily Mirror, the Boston Globe, New York Times, Cary News, Henderson Daily Dispatch, Atlanta Constitution, CBS Radio, Bangor Daily News and many others. More information is available at http://www.guidehorse.com/press.htm

Are Guide Horses trained to protect their handlers?

No, aggression is considered undesirable in any guide animal.  It is a common misconception that Guide Dogs are trained to protect their handlers.  In practice, all guide animals are trained to remain passive, and it is never proper for a guide animal to display aggression, even when threatened. The American's with Disabilities Act specifically allows for aggressive service animals to be excluded from public places if they demonstrate aggressive or dangerous actions such as growling, snarling, barking or biting.

How did you learn to train guide animals?

It was never the intent of Don and Janet Burleson to become guide trainers.  After completion of their feasibility study in 1999, they were overwhelmed with requests from blind horse lovers, asking for a trained Guide Horse. Although she was confident in her skills as a retired professional horse trainer, Janet Burleson needed to learn what a guide animal needed to know to keep their handler safe.  Even though horse training is vastly different from dog training, the Guide Horse Foundation worked closely with guide dog trainers, orientation and mobility specialists and experienced guide dog users to understand what a guide animal needs to know to keep their handler safe at all times.  The Guide Horse Foundation also performed exhaustive research, studying all available training methods and techniques from the major guide dog training schools throughout the world.

 

Related Reading

The following stories illustrate the horse's natural ability to guide those who cannot see.  Horses have a natural guide instinct, and the following links demonstrate how horses natural instincts allow them to guide both blind people and blind horses.

Horse to the Rescue!
National Geographic World

Rancher Losing Sight but Keeping Lifestyle
Colorado State Cooperative Extension Program

Deena - The seeing eye horse
Equus Sanctuary

Healing the Head
The Magic of Horses: Horses as Healers

One rescued horse helps another
Turtle Rock Rescue

Elderly blind horse uses mini horse as guide
Bucks County Courier Times

 

Department of Justice on Service Animals

July 26, 1996


The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Association of Attorneys General have formed a Disability Rights Task Force to promote and protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.

We have found that many businesses across the country have prohibited individuals with disabilities who use service animals from entering their premises, in many instances because of ignorance or confusion about the animal's appropriate use. This document provides specific information about the legal requirements regarding individuals with disabilities who use service animals. It was prepared by the Task Force to assist businesses in complying voluntarily with the Americans with Disabilities Act and applicable state laws.

Twenty-four state attorneys general* are distributing a similar document (including state specific requirements) to associations representing restaurants, hotels and motels, and retailers for dissemination to their members.

We encourage you to share this document with businesses and people with disabilities and their families in your community.



Deval L. Patrick Scott Harshbarger
Assistant Attorney GeneralAttorney General
Civil Rights DivisionState of Massachusetts;
U.S. Department of JusticePresident, National Association of Attorneys General


* Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin.


COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SERVICE ANIMALS
IN PLACES OF BUSINESS

Q: What are the laws that apply to my business?

A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

Q: What is a service animal?

A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. "Seeing eye dogs" are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:

_____Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.

_____ Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.

_____Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.


Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

A: Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

Q: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

A: The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

Q: I have always had a clearly posted "no pets" policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

A: Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your "no pets" policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your "no pets" policy altogether but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

Q: My county health department has told me that only a seeing eye or guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?

A: Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.

Q: Can I charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?

A: No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition to allowing a service animal to accompany the individual with a disability, even if deposits are routinely required for pets. However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages. For example, a hotel can charge a guest with a disability for the cost of repairing or cleaning furniture damaged by a service animal if it is the hotel's policy to charge when non-disabled guests cause such damage.

Q: I operate a private taxicab and I don't want animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair and sometimes have "accidents." Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?

A: Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide services to individuals with disabilities. Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge to other persons for the same or equivalent service.


Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

A: No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal.

Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

A: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.

Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises.

Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn't really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business?

A: There may be a few circumstances when a public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal--that is, when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities. But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded.


If you have further questions about service animals or other requirements of the ADA, you may call the U.S. Department of Justice's toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or
800-514-0383 (TDD).


DUPLICATION OF THIS DOCUMENT IS ENCOURAGED.


7/96

Guide Horse Application Procedure 

The Guide Horse Foundation has a multi-step procedure for acceptance for a trained guide horse. At this time, the Guide Horse Foundation is accepting applications, but we are unable to guarantee the availability of horses for all approved applicants. As more funding becomes available, the Guide Horse Foundation will move aggressively to provide guide horses for all qualified applicants.

It is the policy of the Guide Horse Foundation that they will have exclusive control over the acceptance of applicants and the number of applications that are accepted. 

Applicants for Guide Horses are widely diversified. Many are blind horse lovers, people who cannot use a guide dog, and people who want a guide with a long lifespan and stamina. Applicants come from all walks of life, from blue-collar workers to Harvard MBAs. The Guide Horse foundation accepts applications without regard to occupation, income, religion or race.

There are several steps to being accepted for a Guide Horse:

1 - Initial Application - The initial application is available at the bottom of the page. This application can be printed, filled-in and mailed to the Guide Horse Foundation.

2 - Secondary Application - Upon review of the initial application, successful candidates will be asked to provide detailed references from their Physicians and mobility trainer.

3 - On-site Interview - Upon review of the Secondary application - successful candidates will arrange to meet in-person with a representative of the Guide Horse Foundation. This on-site visit is done at the sole expense of the Guide Horse Foundation.

4 - Final acceptance - As resources become available, successful candidates will be notified and arrangements will be made for the training of the horses and the student.

Click Here to display the Phase One Application as a web page.

 

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