Arizona Officially Recognizes Miniature Horses As Service Animals

August 16, 2013

It will not be long before people in Arizona can officially use miniature horses as service animals. Starting next month, a new state law goes into effect that allows the small horses to help the blind and people in wheelchairs the same way a dog would.

assisted living Janice Hendricks greets Mountain Dew at The Grand Court in Mesa. (Photo by Steve Shadley-KJZZ)

Imagine how surprised you would be if you go to your favorite restaurant and see a miniature horse with the people at the table next to you.

You might think, "Wait a minute, is that actually a horse?"

But miniature horse lovers say they make great service animals. 

"I think it’s a good idea with the proper training,” said Marcia Sizemore. 

She has raised miniature horses for almost three decades. Sizemore takes her little horse named “Mountain Dew” to visit people in retirement homes and hospitals. This horse is about as big as a Golden Retriever. It is so small it rides standing up in Sizemore’s minivan. 

Mountain Dew wears flowers in her mane and rubber shoes on her hooves to prevent her from slipping on the tile floor. She is not a trained service animal, but she does enjoy meeting people. 

"Oh, she’s just as sweet as can be. She doesn’t get stressed and she doesn’t bite, she hasn’t kicked," said Sizemore. "She’ll go from room to room, she’ll go up in the elevator, she’ll do pretty much whatever I ask her to do."

“Mountain Dew, yeah, hi girl. Hi Sweetie," said a group of senior citizens greeting the miniature horse.

walking Mountain Dew's handlers load her into the mini van using a small ramp. (Photo by Steve Shadley-KJZZ)

The group has gathered around Mountain Dew during a recent visit to The Grand Court Mesa, an assisted living center. 69-year-old Janice Hendricks lives here and uses a wheelchair to get around. 

“I’ve enjoyed rubbing her, playing with her, beautiful eye contact.  She likes to kiss,” said Hendricks.

And yes, Hendricks has shared a few kisses with Mountain Dew.

“I would love to have one as a service animal, my goodness yes. I’m pleased they brought it in today, I’m so excited,” said Hendricks.

Under the new state law, horses below three feet tall will join dogs as the only service animals allowed inside public spaces like restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. It is the first time Arizona has a law that defines a service animal. 

Sherry Gillespie is with the Arizona Restaurant Association. 

“Essentially what this law is doing is it just restricts the number of animals kinds of animals and the kinds of animals that can be considered service animals” said Gillespie.

Gillespie's group lobbied for the law because people were calling any old pet a service animal. 

“People bring in snakes to parrots, pretty much any animal you can think of including rats, and we’ve been trying to keep rats out of our restaurants for years,” said Gillespie.

Republican State Representative Heather Carter of Cave Creek introduced the service animal bill. She said federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines were changed two years ago to include miniature horses so Arizona followed with its law. Carter raises her own horses and says the miniature versions are sometimes preferred as personal assistants over dogs. 

minivan Miniature horse Mountain Dew rides around town standing up inside a minivan. (Photo by Steve Shadley-KJZZ)

“A service horse might be stronger than a service dog, and quite frankly sometimes the horses are smaller than service dogs. Horses also live longer than dogs," said Carter.

But, not everyone agrees that miniature horses should be helping disabled people.

“Therapy situations are much different from service situations,” said Stephanie Haselwander with the American Miniature Horse Association in Texas. 

She said the little horses can be unpredictable and even dangerous. 

"All horses are spooked easily, and the miniature horse is no different, but dogs have a little more of that sense of reasoning to where they can really be trained better for a guide dog situation or a service animal,” said Haselwander.

But the Arizona Restaurant Association said it is not paying much attention. It is sending out notices informing restaurant owners about the new state law that requires them to allow disabled people to bring service horses or dogs inside of their businesses. 

Updated 8/19/2013 4:13 p.m. to reflect the correct name of the assisted living center in Mesa.

9 Weeks of Giving, Donate Now!