[nagdu] Comparison of miniature horses and dogs as guides, was: Re: Dogs, NFB and cane travel

Ann Edie annedie at nycap.rr.com
Sun Aug 14 06:00:05 UTC 2011

Hi, Larry,

Comparing is always a risky business, as it is difficult to extrapolate from 
individuals to species.  But I will give you a few comparisons from my own 

In guiding ability, focus, enthusiasm for the job, accuracy, 
problem-solving, memory for routes, and ability to look ahead and plan a way 
around obstacles and tricky areas, I would say that my miniature horse guide 
is right up there with the best of guide dogs.

I have found her pace to be more even than that of the dogs I have worked 
with, that is, she doesn't speed up in unfamiliar places or when first 
starting out, and slow down on the way home or on regular routes.

She doesn't seem to get bored with regular routes.  But she is always up for 
exploring new places.  And she doesn't argue if I want to deviate from a 
habitual route the way my dog guides often did.  Panda just seems to say, 
"Oh, you want to go that way today.  Okay, let's go!"  Actually, she seems 
to be able to read my mind and turn in the direction I want to go, without 
my even giving an overt signal, even if it is a change from the way we have 
gone a hundred times.  I think she is picking up on subtle changes in my 
body positioning.  Or maybe she is actually reading the pictures in my mind.

No, she doesn't chase squirrels, or cats, or dogs.  She will occasionally 
snatch a bite of grass as we're walking along, but she has never bolted away 
from me into traffic to chase after grass, or anything else, as some of my 
dogs did after other animals.

I think, in gemeral, horses are better at paying attention to and judging 
overhead obstacles than dogs are.

And it is my experience that Panda is better at being careful on ice and 
other slippery or uneven footing than are dogs in general.

I also think that since horses naturally travel in groups of moving 
individuals, that they naturally understand and enjoy the process of moving 
among other moving beings and objects, and easily calculate tragectories of 
many objects simultaneously.

You are right in saying that horses don't greet people by sniffing crotches. 
Horses have a greeting custom which seems to me to be more polite in a human 
context, that is, horses put their little noses close to their person's 
face, as if to sniff the breath, perhaps to find out what the person has 
been eating lately.  And horses don't lick people's faces either, although I 
do know some who do lick people's hands.

One of the biggest differences between horses and dogs as guides is that 
horses have a much longer life span, and can, therefore, work for much 
longer than dogs can.  Panda is now ten and a half years old, yet she is 
still a very young horse, just coming into her prime.  If she were a dog, I 
would certainly have to be thinking of her approaching retirement by this 
point.  As it is, she is still learning and eager and very healthy, and will 
probably continue to be so for many more years.  Although one can never tell 
how long a particular individual is going to remain healthy and want to 
continue working, it is not at all unusual for miniature horses to work and 
remain active well into their twenties, and to live well up into their 
thirties.  In fact, one of my own riding horses, an Arabian, is 33 years old 
and going strong.

Miniature horse guides do have some disadvantages as compared with dog 
guides.  Being grazing animals which would naturally eat almost continuously 
throughout the day, rather than predators who eat large, widely-spaced meat 
meals, miniature horses do need to eat more often than do dogs.  I feed 
Panda about 4 times per day, as compared with the once or twice a day that 
most dogs are fed.  Also, at least my miniature horse, needs to relieve 
herself more often than do most dogs, about every 2 hours during the day.

Another difference between guide dogs and horses is that the miniature 
horses used as guides are bigger than guide dogs.  They are also less 
flexible, so don't fit under a chair or into as small a space as do dogs. 
Panda does ride on public transportation without difficulty, and rides in my 
family car, which happens to be a mini-van.  She has also ridden in smaller 
cars.  Some miniature horse guides have flown on airplanes, standing or 
lying in the bulkhead row.  But the need for additional space is certainly a 
consideration.  I have not had any difficulty finding places for her to be 
out of the way in restaurants or other public places.  Nowadays, if a place 
of public accommodation complies with the ADA and has enough space for a 
person who uses a wheelchair, then there will be no difficulty finding space 
for a miniature horse service animal.

Oh, one more possible advantage of miniature horses as guides as compared 
with dogs is that some people who object to dogs on religeous or cultural 
grounds have no objection to miniature horses.  And people who are afraid of 
dogs because of their associations with police dogs or guard dogs, usually 
have no fear of a cute little cuddly-looking miniature horse.  (As far as 
the allergy question is concerned, I don't think there is any difference in 
the number of people who are truly allergic to dogs and those who are 
allergic to horses.)

A question that people often ask is whether the bonding process between 
person and guide is the same with a miniature horse as it is with a dog 
guide, and whether miniature horses make as good companions as do dogs.  I 
would say that the bonding process and the process of learning to understand 
and to communicate with the partner is much the same with a miniature horse 
as it is with a dog.  And I would say that miniature horses definitely make 
wonderful companions and friends.  They have their own individual 
personalities, favorite toys, activities, places, and ways of interacting 
with their people, just as dogs do.  But they definitely do seem to come to 
regard us as their family or members of their close social group, and they 
enjoy participating in the activities of their human family or just hanging 
out close to their people, just as dogs do.

Anyway, all of the above is my opinion, of course, based on my limited 
experience of both guide dogs and guide horses.  It is not meant in any way 
to denegrate guide dogs nor to influence anyone's decision as to choice of 
service animal species.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Larry D. Keeler" <lkeeler at comcast.net>
To: "NAGDU Mailing List,the National Association of Guide Dog Users" 
<nagdu at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Saturday, August 13, 2011 5:17 PM
Subject: [nagdu] Dogs, NFB and cane travel

> Good points Ann!  I also get the feeling that NFB at best tolerates us a 
> the service animal users.  Our state president however always says to 
> us,"if you don't like what NFB is about, then chang it".  No, I don't want 
> to change what we're about entirely.  I believe that everyone should be 
> taught cane and braille skills.  Especially children who have to grow into 
> the responsibility of having and caring for an animal.  Also, older folks 
> should be taught to use the cane and probblem solve before becoming an 
> animal user.  I have met some dog users who expect there dogs to find 
> everything for them and protect them from other people as well.  holly did 
> learn where the coffee pot was at Pilot though!  It was the first place we 
> went every morning!  I also have heard that stuff about Seeing Eye and 
> them claiming to take the best of the best!  I'm not really sure about 
> that but I have read 2 books about the school and they certainly give that 
> impression!  I don't know if they're right or wrong but I have met folks 
> from the school who have impressed me and others who I hoped there dog 
> would would lead them to the edge of a big holw and drop them in!  lastly, 
> you can write me off list or publish it on list but I'm really curious 
> about the differences between horse and dog guides.  I know that horses 
> and dogs are both quite intelligent but that they do different things with 
> that intelligence.  I don't think for example that horses are likely to 
> chase squirrels!  Nor do I suspect they are into crotch sniffing but I am 
> not sure about that one!
> Intelligence is always claimed but rarely proven!
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