"Seeing Eye Horse" - Good Morning America Segment on Non-Canine Service Animals Misses Key Issues


Today, in their segment called "Seeing Eye Horse Shocks Store Patrons," Good Morning America featured a woman riding her full sized "Seeing Eye horse" through the grocery store (pictured left). In doing so, it made one of the most common media mistakes: focusing on the quirk factor (woman riding horse in store!) at the expense of the issues involved.  The result is a classic oversimplification of a complex story that's pretty misleading about the use of horses as service animals:  Most non-canine service animal
users are not, in fact, people who ride horses through stores. 

As far as I could tell in my reporting, the woman featured in
Good Morning America's segment is the only person
who uses a
full size horse as a guide.  People actually use miniature horses for
the job, which are much less obtrusive, and more useful as service
animals because they function in the same way guide dogs do.
Unfortunately, Good Morning America (GMA)
didn't mention that -- instead, they gave the impression that there are
numerous blind people riding around in stores on guide horses. It also
repeated the often cited misconception that horses aren't as
house-trainable as dogs.  They are.   

I knew this segment was in the works because GMA contacted the people who appeared in my New York Times Magazine story
a day or so after it ran.  What's interesting is that GMA spent a day
interviewing Ann Edie, the guide miniature horse user featured in my
story.  But Ann doesn't appear in their segment -- I can't help but
wonder if they didn't include Ann because she isn't, in fact, quirky. 
Which was a fact I focused on in my article -- many problems faced by
non-canine service animal users stem from the fact that they're often
portrayed in the media as simply being wacky or crazy.  But Ann and the
other guide miniature horse users I talked with were neither of those
things.  I know Ann had hoped that talking to Good Morning America
would help spread information about the complicated issues surrounding
the proposed changes to the Americans With Disabilities Act, which
would ban the use of all non-canine service animals.  But the segment
didn't go into those issues at all. 

For more information on non-canine service animals and the proposed ADA changes, see Creature Comforts, as well as the extensive follow up on this blog (which includes comments from non-canine service animal users, video footage of guide miniature horses, and more).

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I thought that the segment was, despite the title, fairly sympathetic. The scene in the store was presented as just an ordinary thing around there, no one excited about it.

While waiting to be seated at a local resturant, I noticed the fellow in front of me, paying his bill, had a rat on his shoulder. One wonders exactly what services a service rat provides.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 24 Mar 2009 #permalink

Most of the media discussion of this have failed to emphasize just how common non-canine service animals are. This segment seemed no different in that regard. And by focusing on the most extreme case they left the impression that there are only a few people who need these animals.

Well a full-sized horse could only be used in big Wal-Mart stores or Target or Costco or Home Depot.

Trixie is not a full sized horse. The media got that and many other things wrong. SHe is a small pony at 4 feet tall. I am a dwarf. I have two legal disabilities which are epilepsy and blindness. I also have a bone condition that makes it very hard and very painful to walk or stand. SHort of living off pain pills. Which I have done and even been stuck to wheelchairs with constant human support and extremely limited mobility.

The reason I ride trixie is this. The act of sitting on her eliminates my physical pain, she was trained to assist with seizures and guide as a seeing eye dog. I have much more mobility on her and am safer with her help then I ever will be. Oh and yes she was trained to tell me when she has to go number one or two. For traffic, indoor training etc. Pretty much everything we ever will encounter.

I have had her for over 8 years now and she is awesome. I agreed to do the media thing to emphasize the DOJ issue going on but go figure they shoot for the "weird" person on the horse thing which drives me nuts. The thing is even if I was less disabled and had a traditional service animal I'd still be fighting the change of law. The fact is the DOJ is trying to undermine all our rights. Thats about it. I'm angry and wont go down without a fight.

That pony gives me independence period.

P S I invite anyone who wants to talk or learn more to email me at steel silver 2000 at yahoo dot com. Thank.