Freddy and trainer Lee Somervell are surrounded by staff and patients as they pose for a group photograph in the gardens at Cranford Hospice.  Photo: Supplied

‘Freddy’ proves a hit at Cranford Hospice

John Jenkins
1 June 2020

Covid-19 has affected so many New Zealand businesses and charities and one that has felt the full brunt of the crisis is Cranford Hospice in Hastings.

The palliative care centre receives some funding from the Hawke’s Bay DHB but mainly relies on donations and the occasional lottery grant and has been hit hard by the events of the last three months.

“We basically rely on donations,” spokesperson Stacey O’Donnell said.

“We have an annual appeal plus a street appeal but we missed out on the street appeal this year because it was supposed to be in the middle of March, which was right in the middle of lockdown.”

“Like most organisations, we are now desperately in need of funds.”

Hastings racehorse trainer Lee Somervell learnt of Cranford Hospice’s plight and, whilst not having a lot to contribute financially, he said he would like to help in whatever way he could.

Somervell prepares One Prize One Goal, a six-year-old Ekraar gelding, who has won four races. His dam is Sheeza Kinda Magic and One Prize One Goal gets his name from the lyrics of famous songs produced by the band Queen, with his stable name being Freddy (as in Freddy Mercury).

He is owned by Somervell’s partner Shirin Wood and her Australian-based son Calvin and was bred by them in partnership with Shirin’s late husband Kevin.

Although he is a racing thoroughbred, and is due to compete when New Zealand gallops racing resumes in July, Freddy is so placid and docile that Somervell thought he would be the ideal animal to take to Cranford Hospice and get up close and personal with some of the inpatients.

Somervell used to direct an equine tourist display at Cambridge Lodge and also spent time training and educating horses for the Lord Of The Rings series. He first took Freddy into the house that he and Shirin have in Westshore a couple of times to get him used to confined spaces and also had a quiet trial run on the gardens at Cranford Hospice just over a week ago.

The following day he taped up Freddy’s front feet so that he wouldn’t slip on the concrete and took him down to Cranford to meet the inpatients and staff.

The welcoming party would have been too overwhelming for most racehorses but Freddy took it in his stride, marching into the garden area without a care in the world.

Cranford Hospice inpatient Lee-anne Hulson was there to meet Freddy the racehorse when he and trainer Lee Somervell arrived in the garden area of the palliative centre and even got to hand-feed him.

Inpatient Lee-anne Hulson, a distant relation of the legendary Australian racehorse trainer Bart Cummings and a horse lover from her childhood, knew Freddy was coming and was waiting in the garden area when he turned up.

“It is unbelievable,” she said.

“I was born in Adelaide and have had horses for a lot of my life, mainly dressage and western horses. I love them, there is just something about them that is so great and this one is so perfect.”

Fellow inpatient Kon Bron was brought to tears as Freddy leant down and nudged his head close for a pat.

Bron was a former apprentice jockey who was attached to the stables of legendary New Zealand trainers Theo Howe and Mick Preston.

“I only had half a dozen race-rides but I’ve always loved horses and this is absolutely marvellous,” as he admired Freddy up close.

Another patient then turned up for a close up photograph and very soon a large number of staff members also appeared to get close to a horse that stands more than 16 hands high and weighs 568kg.

Cranford Hospice put out a Facebook message the following day saying:

“To the delight of those staying at our inpatient unit, Freddy the racehorse visited our garden on Friday with his trainer, Lee Somervell.

“Described as a “big softie”, Freddy loves being indoors, and has such a calm temperament, as you can see by his relaxed attitude around all those showing him attention.”

Stacey O’Donnell said the comments she has received from everyone that was there on the day and the families involved has been amazing.

“We have some pretty harrowing days here sometimes and, to have something like this, was like a ray of sunshine for everyone. It was a huge thing for the patients and the staff.”

O’Donnell said Cranford Hospice has 150 patients and families on their books but only has eight beds for palliative care at its Hastings facility.

“During the Covid-19 level 2 that number of beds available has been reduced to four,” she said.

There are plans for a new hospice to be built on a piece of land on the Chesterhope Station site, half-way between Hastings and Napier, which has been provided by the Joan Fernie Trust.

A 2012 study into the current Cranford Hospice location found that, in the future, the space would not be suitable for modern hospice requirements.

Lee Somervell said he and partner Shirin Wood wanted to give something back to the hospice after both having experienced, first-hand, the care and patience hospice staff give in palliative care.

“I lost my wife Nell to cancer in 2016 and she was in a hospice in Cambridge and Shirin’s late husband Kevin was in the Cranford Hospice before he also died of cancer in 2016,” Somervell said.

“I see this as a chance to repay them for all the great work that they do.”

Somervell said he got the idea from watching a video clip of a 14-year-old warmblood stallion in the United States who visits hospitals and residential homes twice a month helping to comfort and bring a smile to the faces of the sick.

Peyo is the horse’s name and, although like Freddy, he lives the life of a normal horse out in the paddock and wide open spaces, he has an incredible aptitude for humans, especially those who are sick.

The video said Peyo boosts the morale and brings smiles to the faces to those that need it most.

Somervell said Freddy reminds him so much of Peyo, both in his physical appearance and attitude.

“He (Freddy) is such a kind horse and has always had a great empathy with people.

“When his racing days are over I’d like to think we could take him around to different places just to meet people and so they can get up close and interact with a horse.

“He loves the attention and I’m sure I could take him just about anywhere and he would be okay. I’m certainly prepared to take him to other places.”

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