You Tell Me: Is There a Completely Reasonable Reason to Allow Miniature Horses on Planes?

IdcardTravel everywhere you go with the help of a guide dog, and strangers will feed you an earful of stories about all the other service animals they’ve read about. Helper parrots pecking at shoppers in stores, comfort pigs going crazy on airplanes, a therapeutic rat that quells anxiety in his owner, you name it.

The New York Times published an article about miniature horses last week after The Department of Transportation (DOT) released new formal guidance regarding animals on planes that specifies the three types of service animals prioritized for travel: cats, dogs and miniature horses. Now strangers in elevators and at street crossings are asking me about “guide ponies,” too. From the article:

Shortly after the guidelines’ release, a photo of a small ginger horse, squeezed in front of a woman’s knees, circulated on the internet. It appeared atop numerous articles, without any sort of caption, only adding to the questions raised by the travel document: If flying horses are so common, how come I’ve never rolled my carry-on past one? How could that photo be real? And even if it is, why would you ever want to squeeze a horse in front of a seat like that?”

The article shows a picture of a couple sitting in bulkhead seats of an aircraft, the leg room in front of them occupied by a pony who is standing and lodged between their kneecaps and the bulkhead wall.

After interviewing a blind woman who uses a pony as a guide, the reporter spelled out the advantages of working with a miniature pony, noting that they are:

  • mild-mannered
  • fast learners
  • known to have nearly 360-degree vision
  • able to work three times as many years as a guide dog, thanks to a longer life expectancy

I can understand that last advantage. My own Seeing Eye dog, Whitney, is nine years old now and has lost the fervor she once had for her work. My husband Mike and I were with friends the other day, and when Mike was explaining Whitney’s upcoming retirement to them, he said, “You know, she really loved working when she was young.” Our friend responded with an understanding laugh. “Hey, so did I!”

Anyway, back to this horse thing. Horses can work longer than dogs, yes, but that’s not enough to convince me to switch to a miniature horse as a guide. Before the end of this year, I’ll be heading back to the SeeingEye to train with a new young dog.

Seeing Eye pioneers worked long and hard to open the doors and give our dogs public access. At risk of being labeled as a species-ist, I wish the DOT had limited the definition of service animals to dogs. Specifically, dogs who are public-access trained, as well as individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

The description of the photo with the New York Times implies that the couple giving up their leg room is traveling together. I often fly alone with my guide Whitney, who knows not to take up my neighbor’s leg room on a plane. A 57-pound Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever cross, she was public-access trained at the Seeing Eye to sit with her bottom under the seat in front of me, and her head on my feet. On trains and buses, she sits under the bench seat. At restaurants, libraries, conferences and the like she sits at my feet, under the table.

The New York Times article reports that miniature horses stand at their owner’s feet throughout each flight. I wonder. If you are being guided by a miniature pony, Do they stand on buses, too? On trains? At movie theaters? During live performances? I have long believed that the phrase “reasonable accommodation” goes both ways. Is it reasonable to ask the person who landed that seat next to you to give up their legroom (or the entire seat, if necessary) to accommodate a pony?

The woman interviewed in the article said she “usually buys flights on short notice, calling the airline the day before to give a heads up that she will be traveling with a horse.” In the past, some airlines have told her there wouldn’t be enough room, but she is hopeful the new guidelines will discourage such behavior from here on out.

She has come up with a “tidy defecation setup” for long flights, and when she senses her miniature horse needs to go, she signals the horse to go into a deodorized bag. “I don’t want my accidents to be someone’s first impression,” she told the reporter.

The story also reports that some airport officials have asked the woman traveling for an official identification card for her miniature pony, but “unaware of any organization that offers such a thing, she and a friend eventually made a card themselves.” The New York Times article I am referring to in this post is titled “The Completely Reasonable Reason People Are Flying With Mini Horses,” but I’m not sure I get it. What “completely reasonable reason” is she talking about?


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  1. Aska Says:

    Well, you tell me… Is there a completely reasonable reason to allow dogs on a plane? The answer is yes to both animals being on a plane in my opinion. Personally, I can’t say that I agree to the therapeutic rat helping with anxiety, but it’s working for the individual that has it. The animal you choose to help soothe your nerves, disability, or whatever your situation is should be totally up to you. Everyone questions and/or turns their nose up at what they don’t understand, or feel doesn’t have a reasonable explanation that works for them. Instead of seeking detailed reason for the miniature horse, just accept the reasons that are there. Same way I read about the rat and accepted that it’s a superhero for someone. Even if I still don’t understand why it was the chosen one.

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