Visually impaired man first in UK to receive officially recognised 'guide horse'

A visually-impaired man is to be the first person in the UK to receive an officially recognised guide horse. Mohammed Salim Patel, 23, who is a BBC journalist from Blackburn chose Digby, an eight-month American miniature horse to assist him. He opted for Digby as he has a phobia of dogs.  “I have always loved horses but it is good to see the benefits to people who are visually impaired,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph.

Digby will grow no bigger than a large dog and is currently 2 ft. According to its current owner and trainer Katy Smith, he will be able to help with household chores, just like a guide dog.

 Mr Patel, who is a journalist with BBC North West Tonight, has been on a walkabout with Digby and Ms Smith but their partnership has to wait a little while yet as Digby still has some more training to go. “It will be a couple of years before he will be coming to live with me,” said Mr Patel who has a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). “He needs to get used to being out and about Blackburn. I will have to give myself an extra hour to try to get around my daily routine as people will all want to come and see it and touch it.” Ms Smith’s other horses that she trains are already house-trained for care home visits lasting a couple of hours.

Guide horses, which are already in use in the United States, are just like guide dogs so that when their harness is off it is their “down time”. Miniature horses are attractive as guiding animals as they have long life spans and as such could stay with the same person twice or three times as long as a dog could. This would help keep down training costs. However, there are some questions over whether guide horse will be given the same access and recognition as guide dogs.

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