UK’s first guide horse rides train as he prepares for life in London

The UK’s first guide horse has taken a ride on a busy train in preparation for his new job.

Two-year-old Digby joined commuters in Newcastle city ahead of his move to London, where he will help Helena Hird, 51, who is partially sighted and regularly rides the underground.

The miniature horse is in the middle of a two to three year training programme during which he is visiting restaurants, pubs and shops to get used to busy everyday life.

Digby has taken his first ever train journey (Picture: North News & Pictures ltd
He’s training to be a guide horse (Picture: North News & Pictures ltd

Katy Smith, owner of KL Pony Therapy, based in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, said: ‘The trains didn’t phase Digby at all.

‘He seemed right at home among the passengers, who took a real shine to him. He took it all in his stride.

‘The response to him when he’s out and about is always really positive. People are fascinated and want to know all about him.’

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Before he moves in with Helena, a civil servant, Digby, who is 32.5inches high, will learn the routes she regularly takes so that he can safely guide her through the journey.

A stable is due to be built in his new owner’s back garden, but he will also have access to her home  so that he can curl up in front of the fire.

Katy added: ‘Guide horses can do everything guide dogs can do, only they live much longer, to 35 or 40-years-old.

‘Some people like the idea of a horse, others are allergic to dogs so a horse is a much better option. Digby’s training is going really well. Nothing phases him.

Digby will be moving to London once the course is complete (Picture: North News & Pictures ltd

‘He’s a really intelligent animal and Helena has fallen in love with him. He is affectionate and loves to be petted and stroked.’

She added: ‘He has learnt how to push buttons at pelican crossings and wait for the green man and the noise before safely negotiating the road.

‘He can find postboxes and the disabled button when he is in the first class lounge at railway stations. He walks up, pushes it and the door opens for him.

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‘He is also learning basic commands such as forward, wait and stop.’

Katy set up her business, which arranges for miniature horses to be taken into care homes as therapy for the residents, eight years ago.

After learning about the success of guide horses abroad, particularly in America, she decided to train one of her own.

Digby was originally reserved for a BBC journalist in Manchester, but he turned out to be too big to fit under his desk and knocked products off supermarket shelves.

He can find postboxes and the disabled button when he is in the first class lounge (Picture: North News & Pictures ltd

Helena can’t wait for Digby to join her and said: ‘I live in London so having a horse that’s able to go on trains and buses and hopefully on the Underground is really important to me because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get around.

‘I love dogs but with guide dogs you only have one for five to eight years, and I think I would find that quite emotionally difficult.

‘But Digby should hopefully last the rest of my life. He is very loving. He is like a dog, very friendly. He wants to be with you, he is a total sweetheart.

‘He is so patient, so gentle. I have got high hopes for him and me and a good partnership.’

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