First-time flyers are typically nervous, anxious or downright excited. Not Fred. After months of training, the miniature service horse’s first flight was a breeze.
Freckle Butt Fred, as he’s formally known, flew last week for the very first time as a service animal for his owner Ronica Froese of Croton, Michigan. The dual-certified horse is certified as both a service and therapy animal, and thereby permitted on board.
But the flight could also be his last.
Fred, just 18 months old, is one of a few service horses in the US that could soon be banned from flying. Last month, the Department of Transportation unveiled a proposal that would restrict service animals to dogs only. While the department is considering expanding the proposal to allow miniature horses, concerns remain that they are less agile in the confined spaces of an aircraft.
To that, Fred would say neigh. His person, Ronica Froese, had him covered.
With his small body that measures just 26 inches in height and 115 pounds, Fred stood calmly in the leg space of his first-class seat as he and Froese traveled from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Dallas, and then to the final destination of Ontario, California on February 7. Last Thursday, they took that exact route back.
Sure, the two bulkhead seats in first class might have cost Froese more than $2,000, but she said it was worth it as it provided her and Fred with some comfort.
“Fred was the definition of a perfect service animal in flight,” Froese told CNN. “Everyone loved him. Pilots, co-pilots, flight attendants, TSA, airport staff and all the passengers were kind. Lots of passengers were so amazed how well he behaved.”
Plus, they practiced.
Froese knew that takeoff would be the most difficult time on the plane, so she prepared Fred by loading him into her Ford truck and practiced mock takeoffs. Loud airplane noises were played through her speakers to make it seem real.
She guessed security would be a hassle, too. So, Froese took Fred to the courthouse to practice going through a metal detector.
All the training proved beneficial.
There was one obstacle – a flight attendant was allergic to horses. But the teal garment Fred was wearing – it’s called a “sleazy” – prevented an allergic reaction from happening.
Wait, why a horse?
Froese suffers from Crohn’s disease, which causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, according to the Chrohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
“When I’m in a severe flair, the way I describe it is Freddy Krueger taking his nails and ripping them through my intestines,” Froese said.
“When I’m really sick, I struggle to walk, I struggle to fix things up, I can’t bend over. Fred is fully directed retrieval trained… So if I drop something, Fred will pick it up and hand it to me. If I need him to go grab me something, I can point at an object. He can go get my shoes for me,” she added.
While most of the reaction on the airplane was positive, Froese said she did receive some judgmental looks.
“I have an invisible autoimmune disease,” Froese said. “Not all disabilities can be seen and we all deserve the same respect as the blind whose disability can be seen.”
Even if Fred isn’t allowed to fly anymore, Froese said she will continue to bring him to children’s hospitals, nursing homes and veterans’ homes to help bring smiles and comfort to those in need.
She might just have to drive to get there.