Britain’s first guide horse removed from duty after unexpectedly growing too big

'We were going into supermarkets...I would be knocking things over on shelves and walking sideways,' says owner

Colin Drury
Friday 16 November 2018 17:32
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Mohammad Salim Patel,24, with his former guide-horse Digby
Mohammad Salim Patel,24, with his former guide-horse Digby

Britain’s first guide horse, which was specially trained to help a man with a fear of dogs, has been removed from duty – after an unexpected growth spurt.

The American miniature, called Digby, shot up to 33 inches after journalist Mohammed Salim Patel took ownership of him.

The universally accepted size for guide animals is 30 inches, the South West News Service news agency reports.

“It’s a kick in the teeth,” said Mr Patel, who has the degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa. “As time went on, we were going into supermarkets, offices and it was more of a squeeze. I would be knocking things over on shelves and walking sideways to accommodate both of us.”

The 24-year-old had formed a close bond with his horse, and the pair made headlines after being pictured strolling through Northallerton in February.

It had been hoped Digby – who initially stood at 29 inches – would become Mr Patel’s full-time guide following a two-year long training programme. But concerns were raised when Digby grew by four inches over the summer.

Now Mr Patel, who works as a planning producer with the BBC and lives in Blackburn, has been to the US to source another companion.

He said: “It’s not a case of Digby is not suitable for just me, he has sadly grown to 33 inches. As a guide horse he would not have a future fulfilling the role properly because of his size… It’s nobody’s fault but that did mean my visions to have Digby by my side long-term are not going to come to fruition anymore.

“If I had not gone to the US it would have been a setback. I don’t see it as a setback, I’m still going to get a guide horse and it’s still going to be the same time frame.

“If it was the case that he was the only candidate it would have been a setback. I saw four guide horses while I was in the US, all of them were between 27 and 29 inches.”

But he added: “I’m gutted that Digby isn’t going to be my guide horse. I had formed a bond with him and saw the amazing potential he had as a guide, due to his temperament.”

Digby was being trained by Katy Smith and there were hopes he would eventually be able to unload the washing machine and mop the floor.

Mr Patel originally got the idea for a guide horse from a documentary about how the animals were used in the US. They began being trained there as part of an experimental programme in the early 2000s.

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