A disabled man who uses a miniature horse to pull his wheelchair has filed a lawsuit in California for being refused access to two stores.
The action was made possible by changes to Justice Department regulations which allowed suitably trained miniature horses to officially qualify as service animals, in the same way as guide dogs for the blind. The updated regulations took effect last year.
The action is being taken against a clothing retailer and a computer games store.
The plaintiff is Jose Estrada, who uses a horse, Princess, in preference to a dog because the latter does not have the strength to pull his wheelchair. Estrada is seeking at least $US4000 in damages.
Critics predicted the change in regulations would spark lawsuits.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has publicly voiced his concern over the change, pointing to the inevitable civil action.
He told Fox News: “Do we really need to saddle businesses with more regulation? I say, ‘Naaayyy.’ Every scenario in life does not need a rule or regulation.”
Restaurant owners have also voiced concern, raising concerns around hygiene and whether the miniature horses could reliably be house-trained.
However, the Guide Horse Foundation says on its website: “Guide Horses are very clean and can be housebroken.”
The website lists a series of pluses for the use of miniature horses as service animals, including a long lifespan, calm nature and great memory.
It says trained horses remained focused on their work and were not easily distracted.
“Horses are not addicted to human attention and normally do not get excited when petted or groomed.”
They are also safety conscious. “Naturally safety oriented, horses are constantly on the lookout for danger. All horses have a natural propensity to guide their master along the safest most efficient route, and demonstrate excellent judgment in obstacle avoidance training.”
The animals also possessed good stamina and can easily travel many miles in a single outing, the foundation said.
“Many guide dog users report problems getting access to public places because their dog is perceived as a pet. Most people do not associate a horse as a pet, and guide horse users report that they are immediately recognized as a working service animal.”