Anxiety afflictions are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. Over 18% of the population suffers from some form of anxiety-related malady, which translates into roughly 40 million Americans. In these stressful times, people are looking for support more than ever to get through their day. It is no surprise, then, that people are turning to all possible avenues of treatment, including emotional support animals (ESA) when they need to get around. 

According to the National Service Animal Registry, there are currently over 200,000 service and emotional support animals listed in its database. While some of the services provided may overlap, there is a difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. In basic terms, an emotional support animal does perform tasks, but they take on more of a companionship role for their owners who suffer from anxiety. A service animal, on the other hand, is specifically trained to perform a task or a specific set of jobs for someone who has a disability. This handicap can be either emotional, intellectual, or physical.    

The standard ESA species used in the past were originally just cats and dogs, but it is no longer a shock for people to see more exotic creatures being used as emotional support animals in public places such as airports. While airlines are allowed to use their own discretion when it comes to allowing certain animals on their planes, a new milestone was achieved recently with the journey of “Flirty The Mini Service Horse” and her owner, Abrea Hensley. Miniature horses are the only legal alternative to canines when it comes to service animals being allowed on flights, according to the ADA, so on a recent trip from Chicago, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska fellow passengers were treated to an unusual guest. 

Abrea Hensley is no stranger to horses, having trained them for over 20 years. When her crippling anxiety made it impossible to complete simple chores like going grocery shopping, a service miniature horse seemed the perfect fit. As for Flirty, being in the public eye is something that she is used to since she is a former show pony. She has a calm demeanor, even when flying 35,000 feet in the air. Although Flirty wears a “do not pet” sign, many people choose to ignore it, but that doesn’t seem to phase her. She is also house trained, and according to Abrea, hates using facilities away from home.