Imagine a miniature horse helping you with every day tasks like putting bread in the toaster or emptying the washing machine. That could be a possibility soon as the UK begin training the 2 foot equines to be guide horses.
Much like guide dogs, these horses will be trained to assist those with visual impairments. The scheme has already been running in the USA at the hands of the American Guide Horse foundation. They have already had to close applications for the horses as demand was so high. We’re not surprised!
How can guide horses help?
There is a critical shortage of guide animals and the GHF hope that their help can assist and solve this problem. This is because horses are said to make more appropriate assistants than dogs. This is because they live much longer than dogs, with a life span of up to 40 years. This means a more steady partner for the person in need. They will not have to retrain and familiarise themselves with a new partner every 10-12 years or deal with the grief that comes with losing an animal. This would result in less demand for guide animals.
Guide horses are specifically good as assisting animals because they have strong memories. They are capable of undertaking everyday tasks in a routine with ease. They have extremely good vision and a focused demeanor. This means that they can easily guide, remaining relaxed and concentrated. They are natural guides and have been guiding humans for centuries. In the wild, should a member of the herd become blind, a sighted horse takes responsibility for the impaired.
Why did horses begin being taught to guide?
Janet Burleson, a retired horse trainer, created the foundation in 1999. This was after riding her horse through New York City, where she was delighted by how calmly it behaved despite traffic and noise. She then began to teach her mare to lead a blind woman through a shopping centre. It has since grown, with the mission to provide a safe and cost effective alternative to dogs or human care by committing to training guide horses for the visually impaired with no cost to the blind. They rely on volunteers and donations in order to pay for the training.
Katy Smith, in North Yorkshire, is the owner of Digby, a miniature horse in the process of training to be a guide horse. He is one of the first of his kind here in the UK. Katy used to be a carer until she broke her back and needed to find something else to do. She began taking her horses to care homes and really began to see a difference in the people they were visiting. After hearing about GHF’s work in the US, Katy decided to train her foal to be a therapy horse, which will take two and a half years. Katy insists however that her aim is not to ‘take away from the guide dogs’ but that they can ‘work side by side’.
Katy and her older horse Monet appeared on This Morning recently to highlight the project and caused a stir when Monet pooed on the television shows carpet. Watch the clip here!
Watch Digby and Katy here!