The first time Zaiden Beattie came to class with his service animal, his classmates were enthralled.
But this special animal isn’t a dog, as many would expect. His companion is actually a mini horse.
The 7-year-old was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder at just 2 years old. Ataxia-telangiectasia, or A-T, is an inherited disease that attacks the nervous and immune systems, making the patient progressively unable to coordinate movements. Symptoms usually appear before age 5, and individuals experience difficulty walking, often needing a wheelchair by their teenage years. Unfortunately, this also means that the life expectancy of these individuals is greatly reduced, many only living until early adulthood.
Zaiden’s mini service horse, Gwendolyn, may look adorable, but she has an important role in his life: helping the little boy stay balanced by staying calm and steady.
Gwendolyn follows Zaiden to class several times a month, and stands protectively over him. At 32 inches tall and 250 pounds, she is the perfect companion for him: she is almost always calm and stable. And generally, horses are expected to live longer than dogs.