Miniature Horses as Service Animals: How They Can Help

Published July 7, 2022
Confident Young Man In Wheelchair Visits Therapy Horse

While most service animals seen in public are dogs, there is one other species that can legally be service animals: miniature horses. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes miniature horses as service animals for individuals with physical or mental disabilities who need assistance with daily activities. In order to qualify, these mini horses must be trained to complete specific tasks to aid their handler and fulfill other criteria, such as size, weight, and behavior requirements. If you are thinking of getting a miniature horse as a service animal, it's important to understand the regulations around these unique service animals and where you can find a service horse.

Can a Miniature Horse Be a Service Animal?

Yes, miniature horses can be considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Aside from dogs, this is the only other species the ADA recognizes as a service animal. Just as a service dog must be trained to complete specific tasks to benefit their handler, so too must service horses. These mini horses are not considered pets; they are working animals who enable their owner to live independently.

Miniature horses can aid individuals with physical disabilities, such as visual impairment, seizure disorders, mobility impairment, or mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, or autism. According to the ADA, miniature service horses should weigh between 70 and 100 pounds and maintain a height of between 24 and 34 inches. They must be housebroken and remain under the handler's control at all times.

How Service Horses Can Help People

Walking white maned palomino miniature Shetland pony with girl

Miniature service horses play a very similar role to that of service dogs. They are trained to provide any service that supports their owner based on their individual disability or needs. A small sampling of the numerous tasks service horses may perform include:

  • Alerting to low blood sugar
  • Answering the door
  • Balance assistance
  • Blocking individual from danger
  • Carrying items
  • Dialing emergency services
  • Guiding
  • Interrupting dissociative episodes
  • Interrupting panic attacks
  • Retrieving items
  • Serving as a barrier in public settings
  • Turning on lights
  • Waking owner

Benefits of Using Miniature Horses as Service Animals

Aside from a personal preference for horses over canines, there are several reasons why someone may choose to use a miniature horse as a service animal.

  • Longer lifespan. Miniature horses can live for 20 to 30 years or more, which is at least twice the lifespan of most dogs. This means your service horse can assist you for many more fulfilling years.
  • Public perception. Because dogs are often viewed as pets, some establishments or people may wrongfully question the validity of a service dog. However, a miniature horse may be more recognizable as a service animal.
  • Strength. Due to their weight, size, and compact anatomy, miniature horses are incredibly strong. Individuals with disabilities that require assistance with balance or other tasks, such as body blocks or carrying them to safety, can benefit from the strength of a horse. These animals can also carry a heavier load consisting of medication or medical devices.
  • Reduced allergies. People who are allergic to dogs may live more comfortably with a horse. However, it is still possible to have an allergy to horses, so be sure you're not allergic before pursuing this type of service animal.
  • Cultural or religious views. Some cultures or religions may prohibit individuals from keeping dogs, so a mini horse may be a good alternative.

Laws to Protect Service Horses

Girl is walking with a miniature horse outdoor

As qualified service animals, service horses have the same rights as service dogs. This means they can legally accompany their handlers to any public establishment, provided that the facility can still operate safely with the horse present, and they can accommodate the animal's weight and size. The ADA states that businesses are required to "make reasonable modifications" to accommodate miniature service horses. This includes transportation methods, as well.

Regulations for flying with a service horse are not quite as straightforward. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation updated rules regarding air travel, a service animal is defined as "a dog" with no mention of whether miniature horses are permitted on flights. Emotional support animals are no longer allowed on flights, so, unfortunately, you cannot categorize your horse as an ESA. However, individual airlines may accommodate for service horses, so you should inquire with the airline of your choice before planning a flight with your horse.

A final law that protects service horses and their owners is the Fair Housing Act (FHA). It states that housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with service animals for a disability. Therefore, even in rental properties with a "no pets" policy, you and your service horse are protected.

Where to Find Miniature Service Horses

Miniature Horses Standing On Field

Considering they're not nearly as common as service dogs, finding a service horse can be a challenge. Fortunately, the ADA does not require any mandated training program for service animals, which means you can find a miniature horse that fits the required size criteria and train it yourself, have it trained by a professional equine trainer, or acquire a fully trained horse from a service horse organization.

Training Yourself

If you have extensive experience with horses or already have a miniature horse that you are bonded with, you may elect to pursue training yourself. It's important to make sure the horse you're working with is suited for the service animal role. An ideal service horse is alert, calm, friendly, focused, intelligent, and eager to please.

The American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) offers a directory of farms who breed miniature horses, or you can find a miniature horse in need of a home through a rescue. Miniature horses have a reputation for being stubborn, so some may not be trainable. Training courses and seminars are available for guidance, though it's important to know it can take a year or more to train a service animal.

Enlisting a Horse Trainer

Walking white maned palomino miniature Shetland pony with girl

Some equine trainers work with several horse breeds, including riding size and miniatures, whereas other specialize solely in mini horse training. The AMHA has a directory of trainers where you can search for a professional who has experience with these small equines.

Communicate directly with a trainer to express your needs around the tasks you'd like your service horse to perform. You could also go through an organization that offers at home or on-site training programs. These programs can take several months and may run upwards of $10,000 or more to thoroughly train your horse.

Service Horse Organizations

Most organizations that sell trained service horses cater to one specific population. This allows the association to tailor the horse's training to the handler's disability and focus on specific skills. The price of a trained horse varies, but some organizations may request as much as $50,000. The following are a few places where you can look for a miniature service horse:

Miniature Horses as an Alternative to Service Dogs

Even though miniature horses are roughly the same size as a large dog, it's important to remember that these animals are still horses. They require the same care that any other horse needs, including appropriate nutrition, outdoor exercise, hoof care, and routine veterinary visits. If you feel having a miniature service horse for a disability would allow you to live more independently, speak with your medical or mental health provider. After you obtain a prescription for a service animal and review the care requirements for mini horses, you can begin the search to find your new service horse.

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Miniature Horses as Service Animals: How They Can Help