Could ‘guide ponies’ help blind peo­ple?

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - By RACHAEL TURNER

COULD horses be a fu­ture al­ter­na­tive to as­sis­tance dogs for the par­tially sighted?

Katy Smith, who runs KL

Pony Ther­apy, be­lieves so, and is train­ing the UK’s first guide horse.

Amer­i­can minia­ture horse Digby will as­sist Black­burn-based Mo­hammed Salim Pa­tel once the colt has com­pleted his train­ing in roughly two years time.

Mr Pa­tel, who has a de­gen­er­a­tive visual im­pair­ment, has a pho­bia of dogs and had re­signed him­self to not hav­ing an as­sis­tance an­i­mal un­til he was in­tro­duced to Ms Smith.

“Katy ap­proached me be­fore Digby was born, say­ing she planned to train a guide horse and I snapped up the of­fer,” he told H&H. “I’ve al­ways liked horses.”

It is hoped Digby will be able

to help Mr Pa­tel in ex­actly the same way a guide dog would, such as as­sist­ing Mo­hammed to cross roads, get to work and visit the shops, as well as pro­vid­ing com­pan­ion­ship.

Mr Pa­tel is plan­ning to sta­ble Digby in his gar­den and has a nearby eques­trian cen­tre where he can re­ceive a larger turnout area if needed.

Ms Smith shad­owed a Guide Dogs for the Blind As­so­ci­a­tion trainer to fa­mil­iarise her­self with what is re­quired of an as­sis­tance an­i­mal and Digby is cur­rently at the “puppy walk­ing” stage, be­ing fa­mil­iarised with busy sit­u­a­tions.

Ms Smith and Digby have also been to visit South York­shire Po­lice’s mounted branch and learned about how the unit’s horses are de­sen­si­tised and trained to deal with po­ten­tially stress­ful sit­u­a­tions.

Digby’s laid-back and friendly na­ture have helped the eight­month-old progress quickly in his train­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ms Smith.


A NUM­BER of peo­ple have con­tacted Ms Smith in­ter­ested in tak­ing on guide horses, and she plans to train fur­ther minia­ture horses in the same way as Digby in the fu­ture.

Tim Stafford, di­rec­tor of the guide dog ser­vice at the Guide Dogs for the Blind As­so­ci­a­tion, told H&H the char­ity un­der­stands ca­nine com­pan­ions are not suited to all peo­ple.

“We are ex­perts in train­ing dogs to help peo­ple with a vi­sion im­pair­ment,” he said. “While we don’t have the ex­per­tise to en­dorse the train­ing of other an­i­mals such as horses, we recog­nise that a dog isn’t for ev­ery­one and ap­pre­ci­ate that there are other op­tions that en­able peo­ple with sight loss to live with free­dom and con­fi­dence.”

One hur­dle for Ms Smith and Mr Pa­tel is ad­just­ing leg­is­la­tion so that Digby can be al­lowed into pub­lic build­ings in the same way a guide dog would.

The Equal­ity Act 2010 states that it is il­le­gal for as­sis­tance dogs to be re­fused ac­cess into a taxi or mini cab. Equally, “ser­vice providers” must make “rea­son­able ad­just­ments” for the dis­abled per­son in ques­tion.

A spokesman for the Home Of­fice told H&H that al­lowance of an as­sis­tance horse could, in the­ory, be cov­ered un­der the “rea­son­able ad­just­ments” clause.

Ms Smith and Mr Pa­tel are work­ing to broaden such word­ing so that guide horses are more ex­plic­itly recog­nised.

Mo­hammed Salim Pa­tel

meets his fu­ture ‘guide pony’, Digby

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