Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It Isn't Easy Being a Mini Horse Guide

Sighted people have no idea how difficult they can make situations in trying to be helpful. Cali will have to negotiate some of the most amazing situations. I took these photos in our little town in Arkansas and ask that you imagine how you would travel these situations with no sight. Cali and I will be traveling this intersection this week. I will report back to you what she discovers. Of course, I'll be there helping her. She has enough training that she can make some decisions. It will be interesting how she negotiates the challenge.

Cali will not make the decision to cross. She will stop and indicate that she and Mona are at a crossing. Mona can tell by the sound of the traffic which way they are going. She will listen to the sounds to determine which way the cars travel. She will wait for several cycles of the lights changing (if there are lights). She will then indicate to Cali to go forward. Cali must know whether to obey the forward command or not. But, Cali will not try to go forward until told. If there are no lights, Mona would wait for no sound of traffic.

At this particular intersection there are crossing indicators. But, there is no sound so the blind person cannot see when the light is on. And, cars still turn when the walk light is on. And, if that isn't enough of a challenge the buttons for crossing are on different poles for different directions but not close to the cross walk. The buttons are labeled which does nothing for the blind person.

Take particular note of the crossing of the railroad tracks. I suppose a person is supposed to follow the red brick to safely get to lining up the walkway with the crossing. But, a blind person will not see the brick road. If one continues straight towards the tracks on the sidewalk, they will come to a steep drop off. I will expect Cali to take us to the drop off. She will then have to turn right to find the next curb and then left to go across the tracks.

You might ask why she doesn't just follow the brick path. Cali must have a shoreline and Mona must trust that Cali is taking her straight. The blind person makes all the directional decisions. Cali provides the information to allow the decision. If Mona were familiar with this intersection she might tell Cali "over-right" and follow the right side of the curb as the shoreline. If not, she would have to find her way by trial and error with the information that Cali provides.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another Stunning Moment

We took several walks today in town. One took us past the old railroad
depot, up a side street and then we turned right to go past the County Parole Office. Lots'
of people commented especially as we crossed the street directly towards a loading dock

Straight across the street took us to the precipice of this 4' drop off.
Cali stopped.

"Forward" took us right and back to the walkway to go on again by turning

A little ways down the street Cali stopped dead in her tracks. Once when I
was walking with Panda and Alex at an Expo we walked towards the spot that
all the big horses were getting ready to go into the practice arena. Panda

A "forward" command left her standing. She would not go forward.

Clearly Panda had decided that this environment was one where she did not
feel she could safely take us through. And so it was with Cali today. I've never
taught her this. Technically speaking this is called intelligent disobedience. This is
when the guide disobeys a command in order to keep the handler safe.

"Forward" from that spot had her do a U-turn. I faced her back down the road
and asked for forward again. Again she quietly turned us around. She never does

So I scanned the street. Clearly in her mind she could not take us safely
down that road. Was it due to the smell of the Parole back door? Was it the unevenness
of the upcoming path. I do not know what it was and at first I thought I would
correct her and send her forward again. My in the back of my mind I heard the words
"Trust her"
And, so I did.

Without a quickening of a step, without any signs of alarm, just the
steadfastness that forward would not be the way to go, we turned 180 deg and walked back up the walk.

We never had another blink of an incident like this. This trust in a horse.
Somehow, she knew.

Later, we walked in a strip mall. Up stairs, no problem. Found the doors to
stores, ran into and spoke with gawkers. Nice people asking nice questions. Some
said she was the most beautiful mini that they had ever seen. Priceless.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cali Visits Friends

Cali sometimes goes to visit friends. Here she meets some new big horses. We were just taking a ride in the car. It's fun to go visiting.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A horse in the house - Oh my

We are settled in our winter home in Arkansas. This house is set up well to
have Cali come in and out
of the house. She has a backyard with a stall in the yard.

So, Cali comes in while I work and write in the morning. She comes in via
the French Doors and right
into the kitchen. Good girl. And, sometimes in the evening she will also
come in. In fact, I sometimes have
to kick her out. She'd rather be in with me.

We have lots of plans for Cali in the next few months. She'll be going to
classes at the Rich Mountain Community
College as well as walking in the little town of Mena. The town of Mena has
a busy highway that runs right through
the middle of town complete with Tractor Trailers and the big duel wheeled
trucks that the southern men seem to love so much.

Mena also has very challenging streets and crossings. I wish Mona was here
to tell me how she would cross. We got a good idea when we visited but this
town while doing in essence what a VI or wheelchair bound person might need
it is clear that they really didn't have any idea of the practicality of
what they were doing.

For example, the main crossing in town has ramps in the sidewalks that go
down on a diagonal. So, as you go down the sidewalk and hit the bumps that
indicate that you are near the street you are not facing towards across the
Cali will have to understand to turn slightly to get to the other side. And,
Mona will have to know when that's OK.

Based on our test walks with Mona, I've now added a whoa off the harness.
The word whoa coupled with a slight backward traction on the harness handle
asks her to stop and stop straight. Cali is terrific with the traffic and
dogs. The other day while walking we walked past a horse in it's pasture.
The big horse was very excited by Cali. And, although Cali raised her head
in dismay, she kept on walking straight.

Another big test has been passed. Cali can now jump into the little Geo
Tracker. At first we used the ramp for her to get in. The Tracker is very
small but it does have a rear deck which is barely the size of Cali. Cali
can stand sideways and we take a not very smooth ride. Since I don't want
her to be nervous in this car, we've delayed going to town in it.
I am pleased though that she can get in and I don't have to carry her ramp.
I'm looking for a small step that can be carried to help her get into other
cars that might be small. Doors have to open enough for her body to get
through in order for her to jump in. But, if she can step up in she is more
than willing to squeeze a little.

In March Cali will also be going to the University of North Texas for a talk
by some famous animal trainers. Since Mona wants to return to school these
will be wonderful venues for practicing. The folks at UNT are excited to
have her. And, they even expressed a desire that it would be great if Mona
could go to UNT. Michigan is a great school too but wouldn't it be cool to
go to a school where animal behavior study is on the cutting edge. Dr
Rosales in the UNT Behavioral Sciences Department is a good friend and his
wife works with Autistic kids.

My plan is to take Cali by car to Texas. This will be a challenge. I've got
on tap a plan to speak with Ann again regarding the challenges of traveling
with Cali. To me it seems simple. It's virtually impossible to stay over
night in a hotel without adequate plans for relieving. On average, Cali
"goes" every 3 hours. That's a better average than Panda.
And, Cali does not seem to urinate as frequently nor does she produce as
much volume as Panda. It's easily caught in our "bag".

So, to expand on my plan of having Cali be able to "go" in handicapped
restrooms, I expect that we can "go" in a room with a handicapped bathroom.
This is a bathroom that is big enough to accommodate a wheelchair. And so,
it can
accommodate Cali overnight. She will have to wear her relieving bag over
night or Mona and I will have to take her out every three hours even over
night. It will be like traveling with a baby.

From the professional campers we have taken a hint. As it turns out a single
Alfalfa cube will not only absorb any liquid in her bag, it will also make
smell non existent. Who knew. Professional campers (like those that climb
mountains) will put a few Alfalfa pellets in their porta potty's to absorb
liquid and smell.

Cali does seem to understand the bag means "go". I also hope that the
presence of the bag will tell her it's ok to go when she might not
otherwise. She has picked her spot in the yard and has reserved this place
as the potty.

Today's plan is another ride in the car. And, more waiting while I write.
Soon, we'll be working on lie down in the living room. As soon as I dig out
my camera from the mired of boxes I've packed, I'll post another photo or