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Miniature horses aren't just cute — they can be used as service animals. Meet the mini horse guide.

What do you do when a guide dog is not an option? Meet the guide mini horse.

Meet the guide mini horse.

Shari Bernstiel walks with her guide horse. Image by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images.


Guide dogs — sometimes referred to as Seeing Eye dogs — have been assisting disabled people for at least 100 years, with references to them dating back perhaps centuries.

The first U.S. school for guide dog training, named The Seeing Eye, opened its doors in 1929 and has been in business since. (The colloquial use of the term “Seeing Eye dogs" is actually a reference to the school's trademark and brand.)

But not all people like dogs, and this includes some people who are visually impaired and those with other disabilities that call for a service animal. So what other options are out there?

A mini horse.

Dan Shaw walks through a mall in Maine with his guide horse named Cuddles. Note the sneakers. Image by Michael Andersen.

The guide mini horse acts much like its sibling service animal, the guide dog.

Much like the guide dogs, guide mini horses act as trusted aides for those in need, helping them navigate through the world. And both take about a year to 18 months to train.

But there are some major differences.

Image by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images.

The Guide Horse Foundation in North Carolina notes that guide horses are useful for about 30 years compared to around a dozen for dogs, making them arguably more cost effective over their useful lifespan.

Guide horses are useful for about 30 years compared to around a dozen for dogs.

But there are downsides. The miniature horses need to live outside and require a lot more space than a guide dog, which can live in a small apartment without much difficulty. They also have the need to relieve themselves more often than dogs, making themselves much more cumbersome.

And while mini horses can be incredibly cute, this has its downside because a guide animal isn't supposed to be petted by others while on duty.

Guide dogs are great, but for some people they're simply not an option.

The most likely scenario is due to an allergy to dog dander, but there are other reasons. Take, for example, the situation of Mona Ramouni, a young Muslim woman in Michigan, reported by Today in the fall of 2010.

Mona in school, accompanied by her guide horse Cali. Image by Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images.

Born blind, Mona was an excellent candidate for a guide dog — except that she came from a devout Muslim family. Dogs are considered unclean under Muslim law and cannot be kept as pets — but horses can.

Mona received Cali, a guide mini horse, and has since been able to navigate the world without help from friends and family — unless one counts Cali as a friend.

While guide horses may be a second choice after dogs, the demand for them has been, per the Guide Horse Foundation, “overwhelming."

As of this writing, the foundation has stopped taking applications for horses.

Image by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images.

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know ("Learn Something New Every Day, By Email"). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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Joy

10 things that made us smile this week

Upworthy's weekly roundup of joy.

From magical musical masterpieces to awesome animal awwww moments, here's this week's roundup of delight.

Last week's 10 things that made us smile post included a disproportionate number of dogs, and this week's post includes an unusual amount of music. Not sure how these things happen exactly, but I'm gonna go ahead and blame The Algorithm.

I love music. How could anyone not love music? Humans have made music since time immemorial, in every culture around the world. Few things unite people like music can, without having to speak one another's languages, without having to say a word. We hear a well-performed piece of music and we are transformed, like magic.

In this week's list, we have music being played and enjoyed by young and old as a reminder of the wonderful things humans can create. We need that reminder in the face of destruction that we are builders of beauty when we choose to be.

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via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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