A pensioner smiled in his hospital bed after he was granted his dying wish to feed a horse for the last time – just three days before he died.
Patrick Saunders, 87, from Braunton, Devon, had spent most of his adolescence around horses, and began his working life at a stable.
He wanted to spend some of his final hours with the animals so staff at the North Devon Hospice arranged for him to pet and feed a horse before he died.
They contacted a local equine rescue centre that arranged for Victor, a large stallion, to visit Mr Saunders in his final days.
Patrick Saunders, 87, was smiling when he got a chance to stroke a horse for the last time
Staff at the North Devon Hospice gathered around his bed after arranging for him to stroke the horse
On the day, Mr Saunders was not well enough to get out of bed to pet the horse, so staff at the hospice wheeled his bed outside.
From bed, Mr Saunders fed Victor the horse a handful of apples, carrots and polo mints.
His daughter, Jayne, who had come to visit her dad and arrived to see him stroking the gentle animal outside the hospice, said: ‘I simply didn’t expect him to have an experience like that at the hospice.
‘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.
‘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. 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. People can be fearful of the word ‘hospice’, unless you know better, like we do now..
‘It’s something I’ll never forget.’
Mr Saunders died at the hospice just three days later, but his daughter said his final days had been brightened no end by his visit from Victor the horse.
During his time at the hospice, Mr Saunders would regularly regale nurses with tales about horses, declaring his love of all things equine that he inherited from his father, also called Victor.
From his bed, Mr Saunders fed Victor the horse a handful of apples, carrots and polo mints
His daughter, Jayne, said he was overjoyed after he got a chance to see his favourite animal before he passed away
Over the years he introduced many people to horses, and one day taught his wife-to-be, Wendy, to ride at just 15-year-old girl.
The two were later married and in 2017 celebrated 66 years of happy marriage.
Cathy Whattingham, one of the nurses caring for Mr Saunders that day, said: ‘His passion for horses was so clear and they had obviously played a big part in his life.
‘We happen to be next door to the North Devon Equine Rescue Centre, so we thought we’d see if they might be able to bring a horse to the hospice to visit Patrick.
‘One phone call later and there was a beautiful brown stallion stood outside the front door of the hospice.
‘I’ll never forget Patrick’s smile when he was stroking that horse’s face. 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.’