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Patricia Cornwell with Trip, one of the horses she donated to the guide Horse Foundation

Patricia Cornwell with Trip

Don and Janet Burleson - Copyright 2000 by Lisa Carpenter

Copyright © 2000 by Lisa Carpenter

Dan with Cuddles - Copyright (c) 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald
Copyright © 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald

Cuddles in Harness - Copyright (c) 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald

Copyright © 2001 by Cathleen MacDonald

Don and Janet with Trip and Ras

Copyright © 2000 by Lisa Carpenter

Cuddles on the first flight of a horse on a commercial flight

Copyright © 2001 by Erik Lesser
The worlds first horse to fly in the passenger cabin

Cuddles guiding Dan Shaw

Copyright © 2001 by Erik Lesser

Cuddles at Lunch

Copyright © 2001 by Erik Lesser

Bluebell the dwarf pony

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“I’ve got the perfect horse for you”, the caller explained. “She is only 21 inches tall, very smart, and I’d like you to have her. She has a few problems with her hooves but you can get them straightened-out very easily.”

I thanked the woman for her generosity and arranged for “Bluebell” to be transported to the Guide Horse Foundation. When she arrived, I was shocked. Bluebell was an adorable blue-gray filly with bright blue eyes and a friendly personality, but I had never seen a horse with such horrible conformation.
Her back was roached, I could count her ribs at 30 paces and her backbone protruded more than an inch.

Her bite was way off and her vocal cords were misplaced, such that she can never knicker or whinny. But the real horror was her deformed legs.

Bluebell hooves could have been more properly been described as “horns”. They were over 6 inches long and curved under her body like giant Elf shoes.

She could still run but it was clear that she had some serious health issues and would never become a Guide Horse.

My Vet, Dr. Chris O’Malley and my Farrier Danny Harmon did not have a good prognosis. They had never seen such a deformed horse before and O’Malley’s initial reaction was to euthanize the sad little pony.

I was always taught to take people at face value and I was known for trusting a person until proven otherwise.

Now I was cursing myself for my gullibility, having been taken advantage of. The woman knew that I was an animal lover and that I would provide the health care that she would not.

Of course, I could not allow Bluebell to be killed. Danny and Chris gave the prognosis.


“If I work with Chris we can tear-down the horns and attempt to rebuild a set of new feet. He will need special trimming and custom hoof attachments every week for at least four years, and possibly for life.

The total cost will be about $1,500 per year, and I can’t guarantee that she will ever walk normally. To start, we're going to cast her legs down to her hooves and make the cast into splints because her joints are so weak.”

Because of this huge expense, I withdrew Bluebell from the Guide Horse list and made her my personal project.

Bluebell was a very smart and personable pony and took the painful treatments without complaint. She was placed on painkillers and arthritis medicine, but she makes me cry every time her feet were adjusted.

She would lie-down bravely for the new hoof attachments and then hobbles in great pain, taking tiny tentative steps until she grew comfortable with her new attachments.

Because of her off-bite she could not eat grass normally and Dr. O’Malley recommended a special feed to allow her to put-on weight.

I’ve never been an emotionally indifferent person and I’m not the kind of person who can witness suffering without feeling empathy. Every two week I watched Bluebell suffer as she adjusted to her treatments and my empathy began to turn to anger. I was angry that Bluebell hooves had been neglected for such a long time, and I was outraged that people might breed these ponies into a life of suffering.

As the years passed we were able to control Bluebells pain and gradually straighten her front legs. Bluebell was examined by four orthopedic surgeons who said that corrective surgery was not an option, and that her deformed spine made it impossible for Dr. O’Malley to straighten her back legs.

Gradually Bluebell became the head mare of our dwarf colony and during her pain-free times she started to act like a normal horse. It was both heartwarming and hilarious to see Bluebell flirting with the stallions, and occasionally bucking and playing with her friends.

Sometimes when Danny came by for a treatment he wondered-aloud why we spent so much money on her. Don was concerned that he might give up and offered Danny a $100 bill for the first time Bluebell cantered. Don thought it was a safe bet because she spent much of her day lying down, grazing on her side, and only moving a few feet at a time. One day in 2004, we were all gathering for Bluebells scheduled treatment when we al witnessed a remarkable event. Almost as if on-cue, Bluebell galloped across her pasture! Don, always true to his word, began peeling twenty dollar bills from his wallet!

Today Bluebell is a relatively comfortable 5 year-old. She will never run and play with the other ponies, but she loves her dwarf-chow and enjoys being groomed and spoiled wit attention. For now she is leading a quality life, but someday the arthritis and deformities will cause her unimaginable pain and I will be forced to have Bluebell destroyed.

As I have already noted, Bluebell has adopted a baby horse named Beebe, who I received because the owner could not afford to pay for his life-saving medical treatment for Strangles.

Bluebell is a special dwarf because of her wonderful nature.  She recently adopted a dwarf foal named BeeBee and they have become inseparable. 

It is not unknown for horses who adopt babies to produce milk for them, and this serves to demonstrate Bluebell’s huge affection for her tiny friend.


Upon his return from the hospital, BeeBee was weaned from his mother and joined the dwarf herd.

They are always side-by-side and most amazingly, Bluebell has developed milk for her new baby!

BeeBee was adopted by the Guide Horse Foundation because she had contracted strangles and her owner could not afford to save his life.  BeeBee spent several weeks in the horse hospital, receiving a tracheotomy and getting treatment for the huge blisters caused by this potentially fatal horse disease. 

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Helping Hooves

The Guide Horse Foundation Training Program to Train  Miniature Horses  as Guide Animals for the Blind

Janet Burleson
Retail Price $34.95

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Read the compelling story of the first miniature horse trained to work as a guide horse. Learn the exciting methods used to prepare the tiny horses to perform these amazing services.


All author royalties are being donated to help support the Guide Horse Foundation.




  • Janet Burleson is one of the world's pioneering horse trainers – Practical Horseman Magazine

  • Seeing is believing – USA Today

  • Janet and Don Burleson are  . . . Angels – People Magazine

  • How wonderful that Janet and Don Burleson have initiated this valuable experimental program teaming miniature horses with blind people – Newsweek

  • Miniature ponies are leading the way for the blind – ABC News

  • Guide Horses  . . . are as small and disciplined as Guide Dogs – TIME Magazine

  • Extraordinary ABC 20/20

  • It is often the little things that win our hearts and minds – ABC News

  • The Burleson’s are . . . using horse sense to Guide Boston Globe

  • Twinkie proved that miniature horses could fill the role, and fill it well – VetCentric Magazine

  • An Intriguing Program - Discovery Channel






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The Guide Horse Foundation has the utmost respect for The Seeing Eye® and their seventy-two years of outstanding work with assistance animals for the blind. Please note that The Guide Horse Foundation is not affiliated with or sanctioned by the Seeing-Eye® or any of the Guide Dog training organizations. Seeing-Eye® is a registered trademark of the Seeing-Eye, Inc.