A partially-sighted man with a fear of dogs is to be given Britain’s first ever ‘guide horse’.
Mohammed Patel, 23, was this week introduced to Digby – an American Miniature horse – which will be trained to help him get around.
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.
Digby made a visit to Blackburn to introduce him to the town where he will live.
Mr Patel 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 but it is good to see the benefits to people who are visually impaired.
“It will be a couple of years before he will be coming to live with me as he has training to do.
“He needs to get used to being out and about Blackburn.
“I also think 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.”
Katy Smith, who runs K L Pony Therapy and is currently training eight tiny horses, says Digby will be great for him.
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.