The Panda Project
A Guide Horse for the Blind
Report 8: A January 2009 Update
Written by Alexandra Kurland
It's been a long time since I have shared anything about Panda here on my web site. From the fall of 2001 until June of 2003 Panda lived with me full time, and her story was mine to tell. In June of 2003 she went through a transition period adjusting to her new life with Ann. Her story during that time period has been beautifully chronicled in the children's book written by Rosanna Hansen, "Panda, A Guide for Ann". Panda has been in full work with Ann for the past five years, so now it is Ann's story to tell. She has been actively sharing her experience with Panda on the email discussion groups she belongs to. These include among others, the guide horse list, and the clicker training for the visually impaired list.
Panda will turn eight this month. It doesn't seem possible that so much time has already passed. If Panda were a guide dog, at eight Ann would be have to be thinking ahead to her retirement and replacement. But at eight Panda is still a very young horse, and she is a magnificent working guide. The picture above is one of my favorites. Panda and Ann have just navigated their way through a rat's maze of a construction site. They are both relaxed, working together in perfect harmony. I love the sense of ease that you see in both of them. There's no pull on Ann. There's no strain on Panda. They are heading to the barn where Ann's riding horses live.
Here are some more pictures of Panda and Ann. These were taken just moments before this other photo. They show Panda and Ann navigating their way through a section of the construction zone. Every day was different. One day there would be a temporary sidewalk, and the next it would be gone. Their normal route might be blocked by a pile of rubble, or worse a cavernous hole dug into the pavement. The following day everything would have been shifted, and they would have a new puzzle to solve. Ann never knew what they would be encountering on her daily walk to the barn, but however chaotic the construction site was, Panda always helped her find the safe route through.