Mohammed Salim Patel is a journalist for the BBC. The 23-year-old has a degenerative eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa, and needs a guide dog to help him manage, but Patel has a phobia of dogs. Inspired by a documentary, Patel decided a guide horse was an ideal option. He has always loved horses, others were using them, why not?

Digby and Katy Smith. Photo: Sarah Caldecott

Since 1999, the Guide Horse Foundation (USA) established minis as guide animals. They provide an option for people who are allergic or afraid of dogs. Horses have a broader field of vision – 350-degrees. And the average mini lives nearly three times longer than a dog. All the more reason to go with a horse, but when Patel began making inquiries in the UK, he was met with laughter. Until he met Katy.

Katy Smith, KL Pony Therapy, listened to Patel and knew immediately she had the perfect horse – Digby. The eight-month-old American Miniature will become Patel’s guide horse, the first in the UK. Smith’s training technique is simple, teach Digby using the same methods to train a guide dog. It will take two years to complete his education but when he graduates, Digby will be equipped to help Patel with household chores, shopping, navigating the city and using public transportation.

Smith explained, “They (American miniatures) have fantastic temperaments and they all seem to want to help and want to do a job apart from just being field ornaments. Don’t get me wrong, they love a good run round the field, but I think they like being important.

Digby will accompany Patel to work at the BBC who is making special accommodations for the mini. Digby will have his own “break room” where he can kick up his heels or nap when he is “off duty”.

“Being led by Digby is liberating. I know guide dogs do the same but experiencing it through Digby, a companion I will hopefully have for life, it’s the start of something big,” said Patel.

Photography Courtesy Sarah Caldecott

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