All horses deserve, at least once in their lives, to be loved by a little girl.
Author Unknown

Loved by this little girl for 20 years.

1970? – 15/09/2008

I first met Brannigan early in 1989, he was in a small yard at the agistment centre where I kept my first horse, Sharanka. I remember thinking that he was huge, much bigger than any horse I would care to get close to. He was in fact only about 15.3 hh, but he was a very solid horse and he had a way of holding himself that made him appear quite imposing. Imagine my shock and, I am ashamed to admit, dismay, when I found out that he was to be my new horse! A replacement for my unpredictable and unsound thoroughbred mare. A decision made by my riding teacher and owner of the centre without my knowledge or opinion. I was a beginner, my parents and I trusted this man and Sharanka was gone the next day.

Needless to say, I was not happy, and regrettably did not embrace Brannigan, and indeed did not want to know him. It breaks my heart to say that now, because this was a one in a million horse, and I am one lucky girl that he came into my life.

The first time I rode him I felt like I was astride an elephant! He was so wide and free moving that I was more than a little scared. I wondered what I was getting myself into, but figured that a horse was better than no horse. So I kept my fears to myself, and didn’t tell my parents that he scared me!

But it wasn’t long before he found his way into my heart. He was full of personality, very affectionate and loved to spend time with people. We are unsure of his breeding, he had a very dished arab head, and some very arab behavioural quirks, however he was very solid, perhaps quarter horse? He was branded, I traced the brands back to two people, but sadly could not find them to learn any more. We were told he was seven years old.

The more I got to know Brannigan, the more I fell in love! He was a pleasure to handle and ride, after I got used to his strength and power. He would power around the arena, I never had trouble stopping him, but I never really got him to slow down either. We did a lot of trail riding, which he loved, and also started Riding Club.

Brannigan tolerated Riding Club, but you could tell he was none too impressed with riding around in circles. His face told the story only too clearly, the closest to a scowl I have ever seen on a horse! He could jump too, anything you set him to he would clear with ease. Only trouble was that it was done at approximately 100 miles per hour! Despite numerous attempts by several people more experienced than me to retrain him, he stubbornly refused to slow down. I decided that he did not actually like to jump, and his solution was to get around the course as quickly as he could, and then get the hell out of there!

His highlight of Riding Club days was lunch. I would buy him a salad roll (naughty I know) and he would wait impatiently in his stall, never taking his eyes from the canteen, until I returned. He would then proceed to chew and chew until he could safely swallow the roll down, afterwards spitting the tomato out onto the ground!! I could have taken it out for him first I guess, but the effort that went into that little trick always drew an admiring crowd!

Brannigan most enjoyed heading out with friends on a trail ride. I came to enjoy it as much as him, and Riding Club and competing soon took a back seat. We would ride with friends, and sometimes on our own. These times I really came to love. Every dirt road or track had to be investigated, all letterboxes received a thorough going over, every strange horse, cow or sheep had to be snorted at and danced around, and any person met along the way had to be introduced! Very entertaining!

My Mum had started riding at this time, and sometimes came for a ride with us. I am sure she thought I was much too soft on Brannigan, and that I let him walk all over me. I did, but I loved his personality, he was like a small child, into everything! And I knew he wouldn’t hurt me. In all the years we were together I can honestly say he never once bit or kicked me, never even stood on my toes! The one time I fell off it was my fault (acting the fool) and he promptly turned around, grabbed me by the front of my jumper and hoisted me to my feet! I think that’s a record that speaks for itself!

Brannigan never had an injury or sick day until October 1993. He was diagnosed with peritonitis, and the vet told us not to expect him to be alive in the morning. Brannigan had other plans, however, and made a full recovery. All the more miraculous when the vet informed us that going by Brannigans’ teeth, he thought that he was over thirty years old! We thought he was 11 or 12!

This prompted me to make a decision that I will always regret. I didn’t ride him as much, or as hard as we used to. I was always scared that he would have a heart attack or die while out riding. I would never have forgiven myself. To his credit, he didn’t seem to mind. We still spent heaps of time together, and would go for leisurely rides around town. But I wasted a lot of years, he was fit and healthy. And I could probably have ridden him for another ten years. I will always be sorry for this choice.

Brannigan kept his health for many more years, he outlived his best horsey friend Gazza, and then his girlfriend Cully. I am sure he grieved a long time for both his friends, and with Cully gone he was all alone.

By this time I had married and had three children, and moved further away from Brannigan. It was too far to drive every day, and I regret to say that I was too busy to see him every day. I thank Joe and Lynne, two people to whom Brannigan was very dear, who cared for him when I couldn’t. But the time came when the decision was made to move him closer to me.

This was a hard thing for me to commit too. I was terrified of whether or not he would even survive the trip (only about 30mins) after all, he had lived on the same property for almost 19 years! But he was beginning to fret from loneliness, and lose weight. So the vet came to give him a pre-trip check up.

We discovered that he had a massive heart murmur, and high blood pressure! My poor old boy! However his pulse was strong, lungs, bloodwork etc all came back perfect. We were right to go. I was still scared, but I knew that whatever time we had left, I wanted to spend it with him. As it turned out, he floated like a trooper, barely even raising a sweat. He hadn’t even seen the inside of a float for 15 years! I on the other hand was a bundle of nerves!

He settled quickly in his new home, making friends with everyone and endearing himself to all who met him. I loved having him so near, as did my children, especially my horse mad 6 year old daughter! Brannigan enjoyed all the extra attention, and I know he was happy.

After four months, including some cold weather, I did notice that he was definitely slowing down. He was sometimes a bit lame, but he did have heavy ringbone and was now somewhere in the vicinity of 40 years old. He was sore, but not enough to affect his quality of life. I would still catch him tearing around the paddock, showing off for the new mare in his life, Heidi. He was still loving his food and was fat as a seal! How he managed this I will never know, as there weren’t too many teeth left! We would sometimes go for a walk down the driveway, all the time he would dance at my side, head up, tail up, nose snorting like a stallion! I would have trouble holding him!

But Wednesday 10th September 2008, I arrived out to feed him and he was lying down. Not unusual as he often liked a sleep in the afternoon sun. But he was sleeping between the manure pile and the back of his shed. I approached with my heart in my mouth, but he neighed when he saw me, got up in a second and demanded to know where his food was! I was relieved, but in the back of my mind I remember thinking Please, god, not yet.) But the next morning I knew something was really wrong. It was a beautiful sunny morning so I went to take his rugs off and give him a brush. His food was still in his trough. Never had he left even a mouthful before. Brannigan was happy enough, quiet for him, and dozing in the sunshine. I rang the vet anyway.

The vet came, no temp, no obvious injury, good gut sounds, but perhaps a minor impaction? We flushed him with fluids and an oily liquid to help things along, painkiller injection and we were told to wait and see. As he wasn’t uncomfortable or in any pain, we arranged for the vet to return in the morning.

The next three days were remarkably similar. He still wasn’t eating, but would sometimes graze, sometimes trot around and appear completely normal. But he would often lie down, then raise his head up and look at his belly. There was something going on in there, but we didn’t know what. I was terrified that I would let him suffer past the point of where he was comfortable. But the vet kept saying, I can’t feel a blockage, he doesn’t seem to have colic, his vitals are good. I trusted him. Then I heard someone say that Brannigan was always better when I was around. When I left him he would just lie down and sleep. He was being strong for me. He was developing sores on his hips from lying down so much, so I knew it was true. I begged for him to just go to sleep, that it was okay, I would understand. But he was a fighter.

Monday morning, early, I drove out to check on him. He was up and grazing, and very happy to see me. He had not eaten the food I left him the night before, and as he was walking towards me I saw for the first time how tired he was. His paddock was full of thick new grass, it was long and he was having trouble moving through it. He came and put his head in my chest the way he always did, and heaved a huge sigh. I knew then that it was time. He would not go on his own, and he was asking me to help him. I made sure he was comfortable and went home to make the hardest phone call of my life.

The Vet was coming at 8:30am. The next call was to my dear friend Anne. She had only met Brannigan a few weeks earlier, but had been by my side the previous few days when I had spent hours just sitting and watching my boy. I think she too had come to realize that Brannigan was something special. She had bonded with him in this short time, and was going to help me to be strong. Thank you is not enough Annie. I think Brannigan waited until he knew I had someone to help me through losing him. It was you.

There was a circle of friends surrounding Brannigan when the vet arrived. Anne, the owners of the property and their two children, me. Brannigan was calm and happy, enjoying the cuddles and kisses. He was pushing me around with his nose the way he always did, as if to say, Get on with It! He went around his circle of friends and pressed his head into each and every ones chest, one by one. He was saying goodbye.

We led him to his favourite corner. The vet and the needles held no fear, he lay down gently and just went to sleep with his head in my lap, and a big sigh. I thought my heart would break.

Brannigan was laid to rest in his favourite corner of the paddock. I thank the owners for letting me do this; I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

I planted a tree, a lemon gum where he is buried. A strong, robust but very beautiful tree, just like he was.

Brannigan, thank you. You meant more to me than I could ever tell you, and I will miss you for the rest of my life. I know you are young again, free of aches and pains and with Gaz and Cully.

Your hoofprints will forever be in my heart.

I love you,

Let a horse whisper in your ear,
And breathe on your heart.
You will never regret it.

Author Unknown

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