This is the heart-warming moment a partially-sighted man with a fear of dogs tests out Britain’s first ‘guide HORSE’.
Mohammed Salim Patel, 23, was introduced to Digby – an American Miniature horse – who will be trained to help give him “independence”.
The two-foot-high horse has been chosen to assist Mohammed because of his phobia of dogs.
Digby will undergo a two year long training programme before he will become Mohammed’s full-time helper.
Eventually the little horse will be trained to help Mohammed navigate traffic when he moves in with him at his home in Blackburn, Lancs.
Digby, who lives in Northallerton, North Yorks., with trainer Katy Smith, will eventually be trained to take washing from the machine and mop the kitchen sides.
Mohammed met Digby in the town centre of Northallerton today (sun) as he mingled with Sunday morning strollers as part of his guide training.
Mr Patel, who has a degenerative eye condition called Retinis Pigmentosa, said: “I have a condition where I lost my vision and I have come across lots of people who have guide dogs.
“But I have a big phobia of dogs that I was not able to work out and it was good when I heard about horses being trained.
“I have always loved horses and it good that guide horses are becoming a thing in Britain – not just the US.
“It will be a couple of years before Digby will be coming to live with me as he has training to do.
“Digby at the moment is in the guide puppy stage, but once trained, will be able to help me around the house and give me back my independence.
“At the moment when I want to go somewhere I am always relying on friends and family to take me places.”
The pair had previously met for a brief encounter to speak on the radio, but this was the double act’s first public outing.
Katy Smith, 57, who runs K L Pony Therapy and is currently training eight tiny horses, says Digby will be great for BBC journalist Mr Patel.
She said: “They take as long, or a bit longer to train than guide dogs.
“Somebody may need two or three guide dogs during their life, but horses have a longer life span.
“They can be trained up to do many of the same takes like help answer doors and get the washing out, as a guide dog would.
“To a certain extent you can also train them up to be house-trained.”
Horses began being used for guiding roles as an experimental programme in the early 2000s in the US.
With an average lifespan of 30 to 40 years they can remain with their owner for much longer than a guide dog.
They also have a natural ability to guide and in the wild, if a horse within the herd goes blind, a sighted horse is said to accept responsibility for the welfare of the blind horse and guides it with the herd.
Ms Smith said the temperament of the American Miniatures is very well-suited to the role and they only grow to about 27 inches high.
“The miniatures pick things up quite quickly,” she said.
“I have eight of them and they each have a different personality.
“They have a great therapeutic value, they can tell when a person is really unwell.
“When someone is approaching end of life they seem to know.
“They seem to know that a person’s breathing has changed and become shallower and they will breathe in synch with them. It’s quite humbling to watch.
“You hear of cats and dogs having that empathy but people tend not to look at horses as being in tune with people in that way.”
Digby is being taught to become used to a collar and being inside buildings and homes.
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