1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: Mona Ramouni and her guide horse
Mira Oberman  /  AFP - Getty Images
Graduate student Mona Ramouni gives her guide horse Cali a drink of water during a break from class at Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich.
TODAY.com
updated 11/15/2010 11:56:41 AM ET 2010-11-15T16:56:41

For Mona Ramouni, who's blind, using a guide dog was just not possible. From an observant Muslim family, Ramouni’s parents objected to having a dog in the house.

For most of her life the 28-year-old got around with the help of her family and friends. But those days are over, and Ramouni has a new companion to help navigate her way: Cali the guide horse.

The graduate student bought Cali two years ago, and sent her for training to learn to become a guide horse. She paid for the horse, its care and training from her savings work as an editor of Braille books.

  1. More on pets
    1. Festive felines: 11 cats in Christmas trees
    2. Boy, beaver wave to each other at zoo
    3. From blocks to stationery, 11 gift ideas for pets
    4. Most popular kitten names: Bella, Max and ... Kitty
    5. 24 fantastic animal photos

"My whole world and my whole outlook on stuff has changed, because I feel that there are a lot more possibilities," Ramouni told the news service AFP in July 2009, six weeks after Cali arrived. "Before Cali, I didn't feel like I could go places on my own, although theoretically I probably could have."

Guide dogs are believed to have been leading the way for blind people for centuries, while guide horses are a more recent phenomenon. The Guide Horse Foundation has been training miniature horses as companions for the blind for nearly 11 years. There has been such demand for guide horses that the organization, which is run solely by volunteers, has had to suspend the application process.

Image: Mona Ramouni and her guide horse Cali
Mira Oberman  /  AFP - Getty Images
Graduate student Mona Ramouni, left, and her guide horse Cali wait for class to start with classmate Cheryl Wade and her guide dog.

It takes about a year to train a guide horse, and the animals have a longer lifespan than guide dogs. Miniature horses can live to be more than 50 years old and weigh around 100 pounds.

"Taking on a horse as a guide is a huge commitment, same as a dog but with more physical needs," said Dolores Arste, Cali’s trainer, to the Associated Press last year. "It is not a novelty. It is a real working animal."

Taking care of Cali is definitely different than caring for a guide dog. The diet of a guide horse consists mostly of grass or hay and oats, according to the Guide Horse Foundation, and the animals can graze on the lawn of someone's house.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Matt Lauer in drag, Hoda as Yoda: 20 years of Halloween on TODAY

      No one does Halloween like TODAY. Relive two decades of awesome on the plaza as we rev up for 2014’s plaza bonanza.

    2. Celebs guess: Who will TODAY be for Halloween 2014?
    3. J.K. Rowling writes new Harry Potter tale for Halloween
    4. Accused Pennsylvania cop killer Eric Frein captured
    5. Nurse Kaci Hickox steps up Ebola quarantine battle

Since Ramouni and Cali have joined forces, she has been able to move from her native Dearborn, Mich. to Lansing, where she is working toward a master’s degree at Michigan State University.

Cali and Ramouni attend classes together, where they are sometimes joined by the guide dog of another student.

"We've had some adventures," Ramouni told the AFP.  "If she thinks she can do it, she will. If she thinks she can't or doesn't want to, I swear she's half mule because she'll just stand there." 

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Get ready for today’s big reveal: Relive 20 years of Halloween on TODAY

    No one does Halloween like TODAY. Remember two decades of awesome on the plaza as we rev up for 2014’s plaza bonanza.

    10/23/2014 5:43:31 PM +00:00 2014-10-23T17:43:31
  2. video Celebs guess: Who will TODAY be for Halloween 2014?

    video Bob Harper, Russell Brand, Padma Lakshmi, William Shatner and more celebrities guess (and suggest!) what the anchors should be for the 2014 TODAY Halloween celebration on the plaza.

    10/30/2014 7:32:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T19:32:19
  3. Getty Images, AP, TODAY
  1. TODAY

    video Accused Pennsylvania cop killer Eric Frein captured

    10/31/2014 11:27:52 AM +00:00 2014-10-31T11:27:52
  1. Snag Sandra Lee’s last-minute Halloween party ideas and recipes

    Does the thought of planning a Halloween party on Halloween scares you silly? Sandra Lee is here to show you it can be done — and it can be fun!

    10/31/2014 10:49:41 AM +00:00 2014-10-31T10:49:41