No horsing around, there’s a new alternative to a canine companion for those with visual impairments
BBC journalist Mohammed Salim Patel will be the first person in the UK to receive a guide horse. Having lost most of his sight due to a degenerative disease, Mohammed, 23, from Blackburn, Lancashire, was unable to get a guide dog due to his fear of the animals. But a miniature horse called Digby could be the key to his independence. After a successful introduction, eight-month-old Digby will receive up to a further two years training with Katy Smith, from KL Pony Therapy, before becoming Mohammed’s full-time guide horse.
Katy trains and offers therapy horse sessions in her local community, often taking her miniature horses into care homes, hospitals, and dementia units. “Digby is an extension of this,” Katy tells Happiful. “He will be a great companion and friend, and will give Mohammed that independence that is so important.”
More than 7,000 disabled people across the UK rely on assistance dogs to help with daily tasks, offer emotional support, and help them keep their independence. Guide dogs can help those living with visual impairments gain a new lease on life, however for some, having a dog may not be a possibility. According to a YouGov survey, Cynophobia – fear of dogs – is one of the nation’s top 15 phobias, while All About Allergy places dog allergies amongst the most common types that can affect us.
“Guide dogs do an amazing job, but I’m hoping that guide horses will fill the need-gap for people who are unable to have one,” says Katy, “and I’m so excited for Digby’s future with Mohammed!”