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Mona's Little Helper

Blind woman and miniature guide visit local horse farm

July 1, 2012
By BILL ACKERBAUER (features@leaderherald.com) , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - For such a small horse, she's kind of a big deal.

Cali, a miniature horse who was bred and raised on a local farm, arrived by plane at Albany International Airport on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted by a throng of reporters and curious spectators. With her was Mona Ramouni, a?blind woman from Michigan whom Cali serves as a trained guide. The two visited the region this week to reconnect with some of the people and animals who helped to put together this dynamic duo.

Compared to Tuesday's scene at the airport, the setting was more tranquil Wednesday at Becky Montano's Summer Field Farm on County Highway 102, just north of Gloversville.

Article Photos

Mona Ramouni walks with Cali, her miniature horse guide, on Wednesday at Summer Field Farm outside Gloverville. With them are trainer Dolores Arste of Galway, left, and breeder Becky Montano, owner of the farm, where Cali was born. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

Cali and Mona still were the center of attention, however, as a crew from an Australian TV network followed them around the farm with a camera and microphone, capturing footage for a news program.

"Aussies will love this story," cameraman Frank Maurici said during a break in the filming.

Ramouni, 32, of Williamston, Mich., has been blind since infancy. She didn't want a guide dog, as some of her Muslim family and friends consider dogs unclean animals. A little horse with a big heart, she said, turned out to be a terrific alternative.

Ramouni praised Montano, who bred Cali, and Dolores Arste, the Galway horse trainer who taught her the skills she uses to help the blind woman navigate the challenges of daily life.

"I love the way Becky raised this horse, the way she took care of her," Ramouni said. "Dolores didn't have to train problems out of her. Dolores did an outstanding job training her."

She said Arste trained Cali to do all the things a guide dog can do, such as help a blind person walk around a busy airport, as they did Tuesday. But she also taught the horse to do some more advanced skills.

"If I drop something, Cali will find it for me," Ramouni said.

Miniature horses can live up to 30 years or so, according to Montano, so they can live much longer than a guide dog.

Ramouni said in the few years they've been together, she's developed an extremely close bond with Cali. Before she bought the horse and had her trained, she said, she wasn't optimistic about her life. She was living with her parents, working at a job she didn't like and too dependent on other people.

"I didn't have the confidence ... to do some things," she said. "Now, if I want to do something, I know I can do something - I can do anything."

Ramouni said Tuesday's media circus was somewhat "harrowing," but she's used to the attention and she wants to capitalize on it and publicize her mission.

"I don't mind educating people," she said. "When you have these horses, you have to be willing to educate people."

A graduate student studying rehabilitation psychology at Michigan State University, Ramouni is working to establish a foundation that would help raise and train miniature horses for use as service animals for disabled people. She plans to call the organization CALI - short for Cheval Assistants and Leaders International (Cheval is French for "horse").

She already has trained another miniature horse herself and is in the process of training two others at the farm where she lives in Michigan.

"I want to start this foundation and I want help doing it," Ramouni said. "If you're gonna dream, you'd better dream big."

Montano said Cali - short for Mexicali Rose - was born May 5, 2005. It was the date of her birth, which fell on the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, that inspired her name, Montano said. Cali's sire and dam - her mother and father - are still residents of Montano's farm, where they were reunited with her on Wednesday.

Cali's sire, Magnum, is one of many grandsons of Boone's Little Buckaroo, the most famous of all American miniature horses. Cali's mother, Maple Leaf, was born in Alberta, Canada. Montano said she bought her at an auction near Toronto as a weanling. When Maple Leaf was born, she fell into a hole and suffered a eye injury that affected her vision permanently.

"It's ironic," Montano said. "A horse with poor eyesight producing a guide horse."

Montano said Mona drove a cart pulled by Cali around the farm on Thursday, but she hardly had any use for the reins.

"Cali's so tuned into voice commands," she said. "She's so finely trained."

Ramouni first visited Summer Field Farm about three years ago, right after Cali's training was completed. Montano said she was pleased to host the reunion this week, and to see the progress the pair has made.

"She's just an indomitable spirit," Montano said of Ramouni. "Nothing's gonna get her down, nothing's gonna stop her. She's amazing."

Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached by email at features@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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