‘A very special moment’: horse brings joy to hospice patient’s final days

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A horse brightened the final days of a terminally ill man’s life in a special visit arranged by North Devon Hospice.

Patient Patrick Saunders told nurses at the hospice of his love for horses and how he had spent his life around them.

“His passion for horses was so clear and they’d obviously played a big part in his life,” said nurse Cathy Whattingham.

“We happen to be next door to the North Devon Equine Rescue Centre, so we thought we would see if they might be able to bring a horse to the hospice to visit Patrick.”

She added “one phone call later” and there was a beautiful horse standing outside the front door.

Patrick was not well enough to get out of bed, so the nurses wheeled him into the courtyard to meet the visitor.

The arrival was a surprise to Patrick’s daugher, Jayne, who arrived at the hospice to find her father stroking the horse, who is called Victor.

“I simply didn’t expect him to have an experience like that at the hospice,” she said.

“He’d actually had a couple of bad days and wasn’t himself at all, but he was absolutely full of beans when I arrived and you could see the joy on his face from being able to interact with such a gorgeous animal.

Horses have played a big part in our family’s life, so this was a very special moment.”

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Patrick’s father, also called Victor, introduced him to horses, having worked with equines during the First World War.

Patrick then taught his future wife, Wendy, to ride at his family’s stables when she was 15.

They married soon after and celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary this year.

He also taught all their children to ride.

Patrick died at the hospice three days after the visit.

Jayne said his final days had been “brightened no end” by Victor’s visit.

“When they told me that a horse was coming to visit Dad, I thought that maybe he would be able to see the animal from his balcony,” she said.

“I had no idea he would be able to get so close. But that’s what the hospice is all about, going above and beyond.”

Cathy added it was clear how much the visit meant to Patrick.

“I’ll never forget his smile when he was stroking that horse’s face,” she said.

“You could see they had real connection and it is experiences like that which make hospice care so special.

“We may not be able to put days into life, but we can put life into the days of our patients.”

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