Cali is a guide animal, and perhaps the first pony to attend college. She works with Mona Ramouni, a young blind woman studying counseling and psychotherapy in a graduate program at Michigan State University. Ramouni intends to earn a psychology degree so she can work with disabled children.
So why the pony, when guide dogs are much more typical for assisting the blind? Ramouni is a devout Muslim and was raised in a Muslim family. Dogs were not allowed in her parents home, and she didn’t take well to using a walking cane. Cali was purchased just two years ago to help Ms. Ramouni be more independent. Several months of training brought Cali up to speed on how to get on and off buses, and in and out of cars with Ramouni. Cali now also taps her hoof to communicate to Ramouni about obstacles when walking.
The relationship with the guide animal has opened Ramouni to new opportunities. “My whole world and my whole outlook on stuff has changed, because I feel that there are a lot more possibilities,” she said. (Source: Google News)
Cali is a miniature horse weighing about 100 pounds. The advantage of having a larger, very sturdy guide animal is they can provide more physical support for blind people with less mobility. Miniature horses also live longer than dogs. Some are in guide service for 30 years, whereas dogs typically last 8 – 12 years in service.
The Guide Horse Foundation lists a number of benefits miniature horses can provide. One is that horses have very wide peripheral vision, up to 350 degrees they say, due to the position of their eyes. They also say horses shed only twice a year, and do not get fleas. In addition, horses do not have sharp teeth, and are not predators, so they aren’t intimidating to people in the same way dogs can be. Horses also are relatively quiet compared to dogs –† they don’t bark when they are agitated, nor do they growl.
Another student in one of Ramouni’s classes uses a guide dog, and both animals get along with each other. Michigan State University has a center dedicated to helping students with disabilities cope with challenges they experience during their academic careers.
Image Credit: Josť Reynaldo da Fonseca