Saturday, April 23, 2005

Is this "Over the top"?

As more blind people start using ponies as guide animals, I’m seeing a huge interest in custom horse shoes.

As co-founder of the Guide Horse Foundation ( we have had huge interest from the blind community for our experimental program. As guide horses become more popular, we were asked to provide a working Guide Horse for an episode ot the TV show "ER" last fall, and it was great fun, especially staying with the horse in the Marriott all week and flying with him in the plane, in the passenger cabin.

Anyway, seeing-eye animals often wear sneakers (for traction) and we have had some major companies’ offer-up custom sneakers for our guide horses:

It all started when Cheryl made some formal dress shoes for her guide horse, Confetti:

Now, Cheryl is totally blind and cannot see how these shoes look, but we are now getting requests for custom horse shoes, like this prototype for horse slippers for evenings at-home:

OK, I understand how closely attached blind people become to their guide horses, but we have recently had one guide horse user in Texas request prototypes for cowboy boots for her guide pony. Personally, I think the spurs are a tad over-the-top:

Now, it’s been our experience that tiny horses in sneakers guiding blind people attracts enough attention without having them wear cowboy boots, but hey, it’s a free country and so long as they are safe to the horse, ”to each his own”.

Dan Shaw, our first graduate, leverages on the incredible stamina of his horse to participate in marathons, jogging for miles with Cuddles, his guide horse. Dan says that only a horse can allow him the freedom to run without fear and he has expressed interest in having custom athletic shoes designed for Cuddles, which he calls “Mare Jordan’s”:

For many blind people, having a guide horse allows them to meet new people, so I guess that custom horse shoes are also a conversation-starter. Dan was once a recluse, but now all he has to do is find a bench at the mall and he has well-wishers stopping to chat all day long.

He says that Cuddles has changed his life, and that’s what counts. In just 5 years, Dan and Cuddles will be the world’s longest-use guide team since Cuddles has a life expectancy of 35 years.

As Dan noted in his "My Turn" article in NEWSWEEK:

I have always been a rebel, and as an ex-biker I have many tattoos. I suppose it is only fitting that I was given a horse named Cuddles. I had a tattoo of her placed on the back of my hand.

I may not be as tough or macho as I used to be, but with Cuddles I have as much self-confidence as I ever did as a sighted person.

I have never regretted taking a risk and pioneering a new concept. Today I live a full life. Owning such a unique service animal gives me independence, but it also gives me a reason to talk to people, a way to connect with the world.

Every time I hear the gasps of amazement from an onlooker who has just realized that Cuddles is not a guide dog, I smile.