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Dying man who loved horses gets a surprise visit from stallion at hospice

PUBLISHED: 14:04 07 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:23 08 September 2017

Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.

Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.


When nurses at North Devon Hospice discovered a dying man’s love of horses, they arranged for a very special visitor for him.

A dying man had a surprise visit from a very special visitor to North Devon Hospice.

When Patrick Saunders told the nurses on the bedded unit at the hospice about his love of horses, they decided to arrange for one to visit him there.

Cathy Whattingham, one of the nurses caring for Patrick, said: “His passion for horses was so clear and they’d 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.”

Patrick was not well enough to get out of bed to see the horse, but the nurses wheeled his bed into the courtyard so he could meet his special visitor close up.

Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.

It was Patrick’s father, Victor, who gave him his love of all things equine, having worked with horse in the First World War.

In a twist of fate, the name of the horse that came to visit him at the hospice was also Victor.

The experience came as a real surprise to Patrick’s daughter, Jayne, who had come to visit her dad, and arrived to see him stroking the gentle animal outside the hospice.

Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.

“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.”

Patrick had been around horses his whole life – he taught his wife of 66 years, Wendy, to ride when she was just 15-years-old.

Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.

Cathy added: “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.”

Patrick died at the hospice just three days after the visit.

Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.Patrick Saunders meeting Victor at North Devon Hospice.

But Jayne said his final days had been brightened no end by his visit from Victor the horse.

She added: “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. I now see North Devon Hospice as a really positive place where we were all so well looked after. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

For more information about the care and support provided by the hospice, please visit

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