seeing eye …

horses? That’s right. Miniature horses are the newest trend in guide animals.


Photo by DanDee Shots via Wikimedia Commons

Guide horses have an average lifespan of 30 years, making them a good alternative to dogs in some cases. Although they necessarily live outside the house, they have superb eyesight and traffic instincts that make them good companions for sight-challenged rural folks.

The idea hatched in 1998, when Janet and Don Burleson of Kittrell, North Carolina, were riding horses in New York City and Janet noticed how traffic-savvy the horses were. At home, they had a miniature horse, Twinkie, who followed them around like a dog and even rode in their minivan. She thought to train Twinkie, and has since developed a rigorous, eight-month training program that results in the little helpers being able to go into shopping centers and grocery stores … virtually, everything a guide dog can do. They’re even taught to respond to 23 voice commands.

What’s next … miniature Jerseys?? Come on Etta Jane, I know you can do it!


  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Look at your girl!! Maybe she could be trained . Possibly nobody has ever tried. I knew about the guide pony option and I think it is fantastic . Ponies are so smart anyway , why not give them a job? Those booties in her front hooves, are they the special ones made for guide ponies to wear in cities to protect their feet?

  2. CJ Armstrong says:

    We have some new neighbors who are raising miniature horses. Two of the mares just recently had babies . . . CA-UTE! And it appears that a third one is in the “maternity ward”. I’m not sure but there may be 4 mares. Those babies are so teeny tiny!!!

  3. CJ Armstrong says:

    P.S. Don’t know if they have a special purpose in mind for their horses.

  4. Robin Ayers says:

    I wonder if they work as well as a dog since they are prey animals and more prone to flight from fear than a predator animal like a dog? There is nothing I love more than the smell of a horse so if I were in need I can imagine this would be the choice for me!

  5. I volunteered for some time for Lighthouse for the Blind in NYC ( and had a blind boyfriend in college years before that) and most of most of my people I read for didn’t use any guide animals. They felt the animals weren’t up to the crazy traffic and life in the city. This was some years ago and I bet the new assistance animals are WAY better trained now. Horses are super great and smart but they do “go” when they feel like it, so maybe that is built into their training? That they are more “potty trained” ? Just a thought.

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Where would we be without …


Lest you think “leaks,” let me clarify …

“Wiki” is the Wikimedia Foundation (nope, no connection to Edward Snowden). In case you haven’t had the opportunity to experience its wonders, Wiki offers a range of services, including Wikipedia, an exhaustive encyclopedia that is free to use for any purpose without the clutter of advertising, and Wikimedia Commons, a vast collection of images that are also free to use (you may notice that I use them in my Raising Jane entries).

Just look at the gorgeous photo I found on the front page of the Commons a few days ago …


Photo by Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

Are you beginning to understand my wild affection?

According to the Foundation, Wikipedia contains more than 32 million volunteer-authored articles in over 287 languages, and is visited by more than 490 million people every month, making it one of the most popular sites in the world.

“Wiki is a collaborative creation that has been added to and edited by millions of people during the past 12 years: anyone can edit it, at any time,” explains Executive Director Lila Tretikov. “It has become the largest collection of shared knowledge in human history. The people who support it are united by their love of learning, their intellectual curiosity, and their awareness that we know much more together than any of us does alone.”

I can vouch for that—I’m happy to support Wiki financially because I strongly believe in keeping this incredible resource free (and ad-free) for all. So I encourage you to donate, too. Check out Wiki’s Ways to Give site to learn how you can support the hardworking volunteers who have revived and revolutionized the concept of “encyclopedia.”


Photo by Joi Ito via Wikimedia Commons



  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I use Wikipedia all the time and appreciate the ease of getting accurate information on just about anything in a matter is seconds. It is a good service to donate too as well.

  2. Pingback: Wiki Photo Challenge | Raising Jane Journal

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    My first new bike came when I was about 8 and it was a Blue Schwinn with a black seat just like this one. It spanned the childhood years and even went to college with me. Who knows how many miles it logged before it retired.

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Give a Bike, Change a Life

The Village Bicycle Project is changing lives in Africa. VBP is a non-profit corporation founded right here in Moscow, Idaho, by David Peckham in 1999, with the goal of making bikes affordable and sustainable for people in remote areas of some of the poorest places on Earth. In Africa, a bicycle can make all the difference. Riding a bike is four times faster than walking, the only choice for millions of Africans. Improved mobility is a key to reducing poverty, and in Africa, a bicycle can take a person from poverty to prosperity.

Meet Harriet …


photo courtesy Village Bicycle Project

Harriet lives in Ghana’s Brong-Ahafo Region. She now rides her VBP bike to collect water from the village standpipe. Each of those jerry cans weighs 40 lbs when full, and previously, Harriet would carry each can on her head, one at a time. Now she can carry two on the back of her bicycle.

“I had long wanted to bring bikes to Africa,” says Peckham. “When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gabon, it surprised me there were hardly any bikes. Bikes are so practical for moving people economically. They’re easy to work on, environmentally friendly, a transportation no-brainer in poor countries. I wanted to do something enduring, and knew that education and working within the market were key components of sustainability. I thought I’d try to send one shipping container, contributing a few hundred bikes, and try teaching a few dozen farmers a little about bike repair. I was also convinced that the best way to teach Africans was to engage African teachers, in this case, bike mechanics … We began working with Peace Corps Volunteers, scattered in small villages throughout Ghana. Gradually, word spread about the program that brought bikes and training to villages, and by 2007, VBP had reached all four corners of the country.”

To date:

  • 85,000 bicycles have been shipped to Ghana and Sierra Leone
  • 14,000 people have learned to repair and maintain their bikes
  • 50,000 specialized bike tools have been distributed in 14 African countries

The Project makes a special effort to get bicycles to women. “In 2008-09, 1,150 girls and women received bikes in our programs, over one third of the total participants,” says Peckham. “However, we found that some women didn’t know how to ride and weren’t learning quickly. If a woman gets a bicycle and cannot ride it, she is unlikely to maintain control over the use of the bicycle.” So VBP developed a program in which a female leader teaches riding skills along with repair skills in a safe, encouraging setting.

Check out this 2-minute video about the Village Bicycle Project:

You can help!

1. Donate your bike.
2. Donate your time.
3. Donate your dollars:

  • $30 provides a bike and repair training to people in Ghana or Sierra Leone
  • $50 provides 6 sets of the 5 most popular bike tools to village mechanics
  • $120 sponsors Learn-to-Ride programs for Sierra Leone schoolgirls
  • $600 sponsors a one-day workshop with repair training for 20 people who receive discounted bikes
  • $1,000 helps with everything we do at VBP, bringing bikes and bike repair skills to people who need transportation to improve their lives
  • $6,000 pays the shipping costs for a container of 500 bikes

To find out how you can donate your bike, your time, or your money to support bicycles in Africa, visit

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    What a wonderful project and effort. I never even considered the issue in these very rural areas of the world but it makes perfect sense that mobility could mean so many positive economic changes for people. When I read about programs like this, established by caring and smart young people, it gives me hope for our world in the face of daily negative news. Thank-you for sharing!

  2. Fabulous project and one that is so grass roots but makes such a difference in people’s lives. Having visited Sierra Leone and other west African countries, you see the vast distances that people travel ( usually walking). There is seldom running water and people ( usually girls and woman) haul the water back from the pumps or wells very long distances- miles and miles. The bicycles are truly life changing and so affordable to donate or donate $ to the VPB organization. Children also must walk miles to schools. This is one of the best projects I have seen for actual change on a person to person scale.
    I also highly recommend which makes micro loans to very small businesses in developing countries, usally woman owned and run. I am talking how $100 or less can change someone’s life- It is one of the only charities I give money to because of its far reaching benefits. My last recipient, a cobbler in Burkina Faso, the poorest nation in the world, was able to pay back his $ 40 loan in less than a year. That is is yearly income!

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Family Farmers Need You

“I Love My Farmers Market” is a summer-long celebration sponsored by American Farmland Trust.


American Farmland Trust is the only national non-profit dedicated to saving America’s farmland (5 million acres to date) and keeping family farmers on their land. The land that family farmers cultivate to grow fresh food for our families is disappearing from under their feet. One acre of farmland has been lost to unchecked development every minute of every day in the U.S. At that rate, all the farms at your farmers’ market could be wiped out in less than an hour.


Farmers’ markets provide a vital link from farmers to shoppers. AFT’s I Love My Farmers Market Celebration works to raise national awareness about farmers’ markets. Participants pledge dollars they intend to spend at their farmers’ markets each week, then the Top 100 most celebrated markets will receive a special logo honoring their achievement, AFT’s “No Farms, No Food” gear, and recognition on the Celebration’s website.

Pledges can be cast at And, if you make a donation to American Farmland Trust during the I Love My Farmers Market Celebration, AFT board member Tom Gallo will match it dollar-for-dollar, making your gift go twice as far to help family farmers.

Here’s my husband, Nick, and son, Brian, in 1996 manning our Farmers’ Market booth in 1996. Markets are such a great place to launch your farm dreams—mine were a tad elaborate as it turns out:)


Nick and Brian at the Moscow Farmers’ Market, circa 1996.

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I am delighted to hear about this movement and will look into making a donation. Land trusts are so important in our nation because sensitive lands are being gobbled up too quickly! Remember Joni Mitchell’s hit song ” they Paved Paradise and put up a Parking Lot”? We have lost a lot of precious land to parking lots in strip malls that fall into decline, close up, and sit for years blighting city scrapes and county lands. How much more productive and beautiful these spaces could have been with small farms.

  2. CJ Armstrong says:

    It is so true, that we need to support our farmers. My hubby and I have been vendors at our local Farmers Market for several years, but not there this year. We aren’t produce vendors but we sure appreciate those who are and watch them deal with ever changing rules and regulations . . . and weather conditions.
    My dad farmed in this area over 50 years and was one of the first farmers ever to sell his produce at this same market. My daughter, now an adult and living in the Phoenix, AZ area went to market with him to help him sell his produce. She just recently spoke of how memorable that experience was for her!
    I’m so grateful!
    I will be supporting local farmers in every way I can!

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