A Mini Spledored
You can lead a horse to water, but can the horse lead you?
Just ask Cheryl Spencer, a woman from Jacksonville, Florida, who is blind. After losing two guide dogs to old age, Spencer now relies on Confetti—a 3-year-old miniature Appaloosa horse. The horse was given to Spencer by JBR Ranch in Christmas, Florida, after Confetti’s owner decided she’d make a better guide horse than a pet. Confetti raises eyebrows—and awareness—everywhere she goes. Like guide dogs, Confetti wears a harness that allows her to lead Spencer in the right direction and, more importantly, protect her.
“I feel as secure with the horse as with the dogs, because horses are naturally more safety-conscious,” Spencer says. “I know she is looking out for me as much as she is for herself. She considers me to be an extension of herself.”
Guide horses are a relatively new concept. Don and Janet Burleson of Kittrell, North Carolina, founded the nonprofit Guide Horse Foundation (www.guidehorse.org) in 1999 to assess whether miniature horses could be trained as guides for the blind. Today, the program provides them to blind people at no cost. “Horses are all about getting from one place to another safely,” Don Burleson says. “Also, horses have phenomenally long memories, so once they’re trained, they’re trained for good.”
According to Burleson, Horses have better peripheral vision than dogs—and they can be housebroken— but their biggest plus may be their longevity. Burleson points out that guide dogs typically work only eight to 10 years, but horses live longer and could work up to 30 years. That’s significant to Spencer, who was so attached to her guide dogs that when her second one retired, she vowed she would not get another. Then she learned about guide horses.
Like guide dogs, guide horses are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which means they cannot be denied access to public accommodations. Confetti has been on buses and airplanes, and in restaurants and malls.“People’s reactions are mostly shock and surprise, then amazement, and then they are thrilled we’re there,” says Spencer’s husband, Chris. “We have never been denied access anywhere.”–Jimmy Tomlin
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