Panda is a miniature horse just a bit over two feet
high, and weighs in at just over 100 pounds. She's one of the only
two horses in the world that's used as a guide horse for the blind.
Her trainer said, "We started this project with a lot
of questions. How do horses live in human environment? Can a horse
do the guide work?"
And the answers are yes. Panda is proving to be
better than a guide dog, and she could live 30 years longer.
Her trainer said, "As a guide horse, she's very
interested in changes of footing. It makes perfect sense to her to
stop at a curb, to point out uneven footings in a side walk."
Panda is allowed in the house, costs less than a
dog to feed, and she's house broken; with voice commands, she'll do
Panda's training is similar to a guide dog's
training. The first nine months she's trained like a puppy, she's
house broken and obedience trained. The following six months, she
receives guide training work and then, at just age 2, she's ready
for her new owner.
Her owner is Ann, blind since birth, she's had
three guide dogs, but unfortunately the dogs were easily distracted
by small animals and didn't work out.
Already an owner of three riding horses, when Ann
learned of the guide horses, she was eager to get started. Panda's a
high quality horse and cost thousands of dollars, a worthy
investment, said Ann.
Ann said, "I look at it as my transportation, and
if I had to buy a car that would cost me even more so it's an
investment, it's a 30 year investment."
Panda's training includes getting in and out of the
car, using stairs, crossing busy and loud intersections and heeding
uneven curbs. She has to do it all without getting distracted, and
she's doing great.
As a guide animal, she's allowed is all public
areas, like grocery stores, malls and airplanes. Ann and Panda's
relationship is very much like a team.
Ann said "They become like a dance partner. You
move with them and you can feel sensations through the harness and
through the movement of their body, and they can communicate with
you, through the harness."