Blind 86-year-old overcomes cancer and losing guide dog to win in the show ring

  • An 86-year-old man who is registered blind and has repeatedly overcome cancer but who lost his guide dog last year has become a showing star with his daughter’s miniature Shetland pony.

    Catherine Beniston told H&H her father Brian became depressed after he lost his dog Emily, also to cancer, when she was eight last autumn. But he and Catherine’s skewbald Kettlesnout Brother Scott (Scotty) have so far contested three classes — and won all three.

    “It’s given him a fresh outlook,” Catherine said. “It’s so good to see him enjoying himself and doing something different.”

    Catherine said there is a two-year waiting list for guide dogs.

    “He said because of his age, it wouldn’t be fair to take on another dog, and he’d let someone younger take one instead,” she said. “Emily had been ill for a year and had chemo but we sadly lost her, and he got quite down.”

    Emily said her father had never been horsey – “He’s come to shows with me and sat in the lorry but isn’t into it!” – but she came up with a suggestion for an event at her local Croft Top Equestrian Centre in Lancashire.

    “I show Shetlands in my spare time, and I’ve always sponsored the Shetland class there,” she said. “They had a class for handlers with a disability and I said to him, why not sponsor it, to make sure it runs, and have it in Emily’s memory.

    “It says it’s for Emily on the rosettes and I said: ‘If you’re sponsoring it, there’s nothing to stop you having a go’. He said: ‘I don’t want to’.”

    But Brian, Catherine and Scotty went in the ring together, Brian leading with his daughter alongside.

    “Little Scotty, bless him,” she said. “The judge said: ‘Is he going to do a show?’ I said I’d walk beside him and tell him when to turn, and when to speed up so little Scotty would trot, and he did. They’ve now done three shows and won every time.

    “He now has a bit of a fan club; I go to shows and people say ‘Is your dad here?’. The last judge said he couldn’t believe it but Dad’s a former Royal Marine, and he always says it’s the Marines spirit that’s kept him going.”

    Catherine praised the versatility of Shetlands, adding that they “can have a bad reputation but Scotty’s a little star”.

    She said Brian has so far only contested classes for disabled handlers, but he and Scotty may also take on mainstream classes.

    “The last judge said if he wanted to, and he was judging, to let him know and he’d clear it with the organisers,” she said. “Dad said ‘Well, I might’!

    “It’s building him up and his confidence up; people come up and talk to him at shows, and give him a round of applause.”

    Catherine said her father is not one to gush, but: “after the first show, he said ‘I might as well leave my jacket in the lorry’.”

    “He’ll ask me when his next show is, and I’ll tell him and he’ll say ‘all right, yes’,” she said, adding that she also hopes her father’s experiences will show others what is possible.

    “Someone said ‘I hope when I’m his age, I can do that’, and there’s nothing to stop you,” she said. “Dad loves the attention — they both do.”

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