Why Miniature Horses Make Such Great Service Animals

A miniature horse guiding a person down a sidewalk

William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

With news that Southwest is allowing mini horses on flights, here's what to know about these petite equine wonders.

There has been a lot of news about pets on airline flights lately, so when Southwest Airlines recently updated their statement about traveling with animals, it didn't comes as much of a surprise. However, there was something in there that I wasn't expecting. From the statement.

Southwest Airlines welcomes trained dogs, cats, and miniature horses as service animals onboard our flights as long as the Customer is able to provide credible verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal. Southwest Airlines does not accept unusual or exotic species of animals.

Am I the last person to know that there are

? (Let alone, service cats?) I mean, emotional support animals come in all shapes and sizes – peacocks, squirrels, you name it – but service animals are trained and actually act as guides. Horses are smart and seriously intuitive, but I didn't know they could take the place of dogs in, among other tasks, guiding the blind. Which led me down the research rabbit hole to discover that it all makes perfect sense. Here's why.

(But first, meet Chunky Monkey, Fancy Dancer, Glitter Bug and Patty Cake.)

The Guide Horse Foundation reminds us that horses are natural guide animals that having been showing humans the way for ages. And it's natural for them to do so. They note that In the wild, horses show 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." They also point out the following reasons why miniature horses make a great match for the job.

Big horse and miniature horse comparison
Pete Markham / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

1. Long Lifespan

While a guide dog can serve for maybe eight to 12 years, horse have an average lifespan of 30 to 40 years, and can live to be more than 50 years old. Since people and their service animals become so bonded, how wonderful to have each other for so long.

2. Cost Effective

Only 7,000 out of the 1.3 million blind people in the US use guide dogs. Training can cost up to $60,000, according to the Guide Dog Users national advocacy group, which could prove prohibitive. "Hence, a Guide Horse could be more cost-effective and ensure that more blind people receive a guide animal," notes the foundation.

3. Better Acceptance

Guide dog users report resistance in accessing public places where dogs are not permitted because their dog is perceived as a pet. Those who use miniature horses do not seem to have this problem since the animal is more easily recognizable as a service one.

4. Calm Nature

Just think of calvary and police horses in the midst of chaos – horses can be trained to remain very, very calm.

5. Great Memory

Horses have amazing memories. I know that's a fact because of my childhood with horses, but the foundation add that horse will naturally remember a dangerous situation decades after it happened.

6. Excellent Vision

Because of the placement of their eyes, a horse's range of vision is almost a remarkable 350 degrees. They are the only guide animals that can move each eye independently, meaning they can track potential danger with each eye. Plus, they can see very well in the dark.

7. Focused Demeanor

Trained horses are very focused on their work and are not easily distracted.

8. Safety Conscious

Horses are very alert and always looking for dangerous situations. "All horses have a natural propensity to guide their master along the safest most efficient route," explains the foundation, "and demonstrate excellent judgment in obstacle avoidance training."

9. High Stamina

Healthy horses are hearty and robust.

10. Good Manners

Guide horses can be housebroken, they do not get fleas and only shed two times per year. (Which means they are also a great choice for people who are allergic to dogs.)

For more on why miniature horses are superstar service animals, watch this video of the remarkable Panda and how she helps her human.

Oh and in case you're wondering where a mini horse sits on a plane? Not in exit rows. Usually in the front, like the bulkhead area, where there is more room.