The UK’s first guide horse has been matched with a partially sighted partner.
American miniature horse Digby will be assisting Blackburn-based Mohammed Salim Patel once he has completed his training.
Mohammed, who has a degenerative visual impairment, has a phobia of dogs and had resigned himself to never having an assistance animal.
However, Digby’s owner and trainer, Katy Smith, introduced him to the idea of a guide horse.
“I’ve always like horses and went riding as a child,” Mohammed told H&H.
“Katy approached me before Digby was born saying she was planning to train a guide horse and I snapped up the offer. I’d love to be the first person to receive a guide horse.
“Digby has a wonderful temperament, he’s up for anything and remains calm and collected.
“At the moment I’m reliant on family and friends, but Digby would alleviate that.”
It is hoped the eight-month-old colt will start his new life with Mohammed in around two years time.
Mohammed is planning to stable Digby in his garden and has a nearby equestrian centre where he can receive a larger turnout area if needed.
Katy is delighted at the bond the pair has struck up during their initial meetings.
“Digby is a little super star,” she told H&H. “I’m really pleased for Mohammed — they already seem to have a connection which is really good.
“He’s taking everything in his stride and has made loads of progress.”
Digby is undergoing a training programme, similar to that of a guide dog, and is currently at the “puppy walking” stage.
He is being familiarised with busy situations and is hoped to carry out all the tasks a guide dog would, such as helping Mohammed cross roads, get to work and visit the shops, as well as providing companionship.
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Katy and Mohammed have been in discussions with Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the Environment Agency to expand legislation to allow guide horses inside buildings as well as guide dogs.
Digby will wear “thunder pants” when he is working, which collect his manure in a bag for appropriate disposal.
Look out for further analysis on the future prospect of guide horses in Horse & Hound magazine