|March 17, 2004, 6:53PM
Plenty of horse sense makes pony a proven leader
Not bad for a horse wandering about in baby shoes.
The greatest advantage to using horses over dogs is
longevity. Horses can live up to three times as long,
longer, Don Burleson says. Horses also have eyes on the sides of
their heads that allow them to see nearly 360 degrees.
But "not every horse has what it takes," notes Janet
Burleson, a retired professional horse trainer.
Each needs to be "100 percent proficient," her husband adds.
Especially when it comes to "intelligent disobedience." A
horse must be smart enough to prevent its owner from entering an
elevator if the cage is nowhere in sight or crossing the street
if a car is heading toward them despite a walk signal to
It takes 400 to 600 hours to teach a horse to lead the blind
and visually impaired. The Burlesons say that's less time than
it takes to train dogs, which require puppy socialization
The first horse they trained was named Twinkie. During trips
to a flea market in Raleigh, the couple began noticing that Don
Burleson's personal pet would steer them clear of hazards such
as electrical cords.
They kept Twinkie but placed the next horse in Maine. The nonprofit foundation provides the
animals at no charge to the blind and visually impaired, and
operates on donations.
Eighty people are on the waiting list, but the trainers are
in no rush to match them with horses.
"We still consider it experimental," Janet Burleson says."We
haven't encouraged a great many people to try it."
For more information on the guide horse program, visit