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Guide horse must relinquish service after accidental poisoning

17:34 08/05/2020

Belgium’s only guide horse has had to give up his service to Bruges resident Monique Van den Abbeel following ingesting the leaves of a maple tree, which are poisonous to horses.

Dinky is a miniature horse and has been trained as a seeing-eye companion to the visually impaired. Guide mini-horses have been used in the US for about 20 years now, but Dinky is the first guide horse in Europe.

He was trained by Jules O’Dwyer, a British expat who lives in Tongeren. O’Dwyer trains guide dogs for a living and was intrigued by the idea of working with a miniature horse. She found a suitable candidate in Dinky, who she brought to Belgium from the Netherlands.

O’Dwyer had previously trained Van den Abbeel’s guide dog and found that she was a good candidate to be paired with Dinky. The two were brought together, making a splash in the media and being asked to visit the European parliament (pictured).

Emotionally unstable

Dinky has only been an official guide horse for Van den Abbeel – also an author and motivational speaker – for about a year, and he has had to give up his post already. On a recent visit back to his trainer in Limburg, Dinky ate the wrong kind of maple leaves and got extremely ill.

Some species of maple are poisonous to horses. Under veterinary care, Dinky recovered, which was in fact unexpected. But he’s no longer fit for service, according to O’Dwyer who says he is now spooked by cars and less emotionally stable than he once was.

Mini-horses have some advantages over seeing-eye dogs, such as a much longer life span, an excellent long-term memory and outstanding peripheral vision. They are also harder to keep, of course, and are not always as welcome as dogs inside public places or transport.

As there are few programmes to train guide horses in Europe, Van den Abbeel will probably have to replace Dinky with a new guide dog.

Photo ©Thierry Roge/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw