We know it’s not the most believable story you’ll read today but it’s true – a blind man who has a fear of dogs is about to receive Britain’s first guide horse. Digby, a two year old, two foot tall American miniature horse from Northallerton, Yorkshire, has spent the last year in training. Digby will soon be living with Mohammed Salim Patel in Blackburn, Lancashire. He will be providing the same service to Mohammed that a guide dog would.
Mohammed, 24, a planning producer with the BBC, has the degenerative eye condition “retinitis pigmentosa”, a condition which has since made him virtually blind. The horse will help Mohammed with daily chores which will even include learning to unload the washing machine and mop the floor – as well as take him to the train station for his daily commute.
‘I was born with the condition but it wasn’t really picked up until I was three years old. ‘I was fairly OK up until the age of 16 when my sight began to degenerate quite rapidly. ‘I was playing football at a high level and suddenly I had to stop. It hit me quite hard. ‘I had to think whether or not I’d let this condition impair my life or would I just get on with it, so I began to look into mobility aids. ‘I’ve always been terrified of dogs. I’ve never grown up around them and the interactions I’ve had with them have never been pleasant. ‘When I was 12 I was nearly attacked by a stray dog, I had to run into a main road to avoid it and was nearly run over.’
Digby’s trainer, Katy Smith, 58 said that Mohammed was delighted when she agreed to start training a horse for him.
Katy said: ‘Mohammed got in touch after seeing the story and said he had a real fear of dogs and would I consider him to be the first recipient of Digby. ‘From early on when I started breeding guide horses, I wanted to train a guide horse. ‘When Mohammed got in touch he seemed very up for it and because of his phobia with dogs he seemed an ideal candidate. ‘Digby has met Mohammed four or five times now, and there’s definitely a bond between them. ‘He listens to his voice and it’s lovely to see what could be a beautiful partnership.’
Two years have been set aside for his training, but Mohammed said it is going so well he could be finished much earlier than that. He added: ‘The moment I met Digby was a surreal experience. I’d never thought it would actually happen, but here I was.. I was quite nervous.’
‘It was liberating because I’d finally met the being who would potentially change my whole life. ‘I was so surprised by his temperament. He was only a baby but he was so calm and patient and willing to please. We’re quite close. He recognises me and I feel like we already have a bond.’
Video Credit Metro.co.uk