Yes, The Baltimore School Board Approved Miniature Horses In Class As Service Animals

Shari Bernstiel feeds a treat to Tonto, her guide horse, after they took a walk March 19, 2004 in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Tonto, a miniature horse who went through one year of training, acts as Bernstiel's seeing eye dog and is one of three working guide horses in the United States.

The Baltimore City Public Schools Board of Commissioners has approved and expanded permission for the use of service animals in Baltimore schools to include miniature horses. A rule stating that all people with these service animals must be “permitted access to the school district” property. While most people have seen dogs as service animals, the Baltimore school board has now approved miniature horses as another option. Baltimore City public school students can still use dogs as service animals, but now they can use miniature horses, too.

But the Baltimore City Public school board said that there are certain conditions under which a student or employee could bring a miniature horse into Baltimore schools, including that the horse falls under the definition of “miniature horse.” The miniature horses, typically between 24 and 34 inches (measured at the shoulders) “must be housebroken and under their handler’s control.”

Alison Stonecypher, operations director with the American Miniature Horse Association says that miniature horses, like dogs, have loving personalities, but horses have some advantages over their canine counterparts. Miniature horses have a longer life expectancy than dogs, so they can provide assistance for a longer span of time.

“People take to them really well.”

Stonecypher says that there has been a real jump in a number of people asking about these horses as service animals.

But the Baltimore City school board cannot say how the day to day educational experience will work with service dogs and horses in the buildings (many of which have no way to accommodate horses going up and down stairs and no green space) because at this time, according to City schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster, there are no children in any Baltimore schools with service animals of any kind.

But the Baltimore School Board is not the first school district to give the okay to bringing horses to school, but it is the first city district (one with very limited stable facilities). The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina has also approved the use of miniature horses in schools, but some parents and board members have concerns about how miniature horses in the classroom, the cafeteria, and the hallways would play out.

Parent Bambi Ahad wonders how much learning will go on with a horse in the classroom.

“I think that can be a bit distracting.”

School board chair Mary McCray expressed her concerns about miniature horses in schools too.

“You try to visualize in your mind, a miniature horse coming into your school building and your classroom, and the uproar that especially little kids would have.”

The school board claims that they are doing what they need to do to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which lists miniature horses as viable service animals. While the school board is likely not eager to have these animals in the classroom, they prefer that to the lawsuit that could come if they disallow these animals.

Charlotte area teacher Linda Havrun says that even though she thinks it’s a great idea, the schools in their district simply don’t have space.

“I think it’s a great idea, and I think children are flexible and would eventually adapt. However, I don’t think the classrooms, we don’t have the room for it.”

But Elyse Dashew, a board member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, says that the rule has been on the books for years.

“I clarified to a few people that I spoke with that this is a policy that’s been on the books for seven years.”

Dashew also confirms that no students have asked to bring a service horse to school.


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But Jim Frazier with Blue Blazes Farm who trains miniature horses says that he can see problems having horses in schools, especially those with no specific outdoor grazing areas.

“You gotta have the right horse for the right fit. The horse is a grazing animal. They’re meant to be outside and not be inside all day around people.”

What do you think of miniature horses in urban classrooms? Do you think there is any way to make it work? Are these school boards passing these rules to avoid civil liberties lawsuits?

[Featured Image by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images]