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A visually impaired man is the first in the UK to be given a guide horse to help him, due to his phobia of dogs.
23 year old Mohammed Salim Patel has a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa and is also scared of dogs. He has now received a two foot tall, American Miniature horse named Digby, to help him with his daily needs.
Digby is eight months old and currently being trained for Mr Patel by Katy Smith. His training will take place over a couple of years and eventually he will be able to help his owner in much the same way as a guide dog.
Ms Smith is currently training eight horses similar to Digby, she says he is going to be a great helping hand for Mr Patel.
Digby is living in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, with his trainer. Once Digby is fully trained he will be able to mop the kitchen sides and even take the washing out of the machine.
‘I have always loved horses but it is good to see the benefits to people who are visually impaired.’
‘He needs to get used to being around Blackburn.’
Ms Smith has recently introduced Digby to his future hometown.
Horses began being used for guiding roles as an experiment programme in the early 2000s in the US.
‘The miniatures pick things up quite quickly’
These American Miniature horses have a lifespan of up to 45 to 50 years, allowing them to assist their owner for much longer than a guide dog. They also have the ability to guide in the wild. If a horse within the herd goes blind, a sighted horse takes responsibility to guide it with the rest of the group.
‘You may have two or three guide dogs and then you have to think about the emotional bond to them.’
‘They have a great therapeutic value, they can tell when a person is really unwell. When someone is approaching the end of life they seem to know.’
Digby has already become used to a collar and being inside buildings and homes.