Michigan Woman Brings Miniature Horse on Plane as Her Service Animal: 'He Is So Bonded with Me'02/20/2020
A miniature horse named Freckle Butt Fred recently had the pleasure of flying first class for the first time thanks to his human companion, Ronica Froese.
The 115-pound equine embarked on his inaugural plane ride across the United States on Feb. 7, flying from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Ontario, California with a stopover at the Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport, Froese tells PEOPLE.
As a specially trained service animal, Fred is technically allowed to accompany Froese — who owns Little Horses Big Smiles, a company that specializes in equine assisted therapy — on commercial flights.
Froese says she and Fred worked with other service horse handlers to prepare for the big trip, including sonic exercises to get the gentle creature accustomed to loud noises and potty training for when he needs to relieve himself at the airport.
According to Froese, Fred now knows how to defecate on command and pee on astroturf found in most pet relief areas.
“Fred was the definition of a perfect service animal in flight,” she tells PEOPLE. “He is so bonded with me, he is willing to do anything I ask of him.”
To ensure Fred had plenty of room during his ride, Froese purchased two first class tickets in bulkhead seating and made sure that each flight was no longer than three hours. Fred also wore special shoes for horses and stood on a yoga mat placed on the floor so he had enough traction to stable himself during take-off and landing.
As to accommodate other passengers, Fred wore a teal hood so that those who are allergic to horses would not be affected by his hair.
“He has rode probably 10,000 miles in my truck so flying was a breeze,” Froese says. “I have trained him to lay down on command and sit it my lap like a dog in the event the plane crashed so we could evacuate down the slide. Luckily, we didn’t have to see if that training was a success.”
According to Froese, Fred’s presence was well-received by cabin crew and fellow travelers alike. The miniature horse flew back to his home in Michigan on Feb. 13.
“Everyone loved him. Pilots, copilots, flight attendants, TSA, airport staff, and all the passengers were kind,” she tells PEOPLE. “Lots of the passengers were so amazed how well he behaved.”
However, Froese says the trip did experience a few bumps along the way. While having a horse on a plane may be a rare occurrence, the trainer says she wishes “the public would understand that taking a photo or video with your cellphone of a service animal who is classified as medical equipment without the handler’s permission is extremely rude.”
“Many politely asked, but others were just rude. We had people wait 30 minutes for us to come out of the bathroom just to snap a picture,” she shares. “We aren’t a side show and would like to be treated with respect.”
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Fred’s flight comes amid news that U.S. Department of Transportation announced plans to restrict the types of service animals permitted on planes, allowing only specially trained dogs to fly alongside their human companions.
Though Fred also works as a therapy horse alongside Froese’s two other miniature horses, Charlie and George, his owner says it’s important for him to be able to fly because he is a much-needed service animal.
“I don’t have a mental illness. I have an invisible autoimmune disease,” Froese tells PEOPLE. “Not all disabilities can be seen and we all deserve the same respect as the blind whose disability can be seen.”
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