May 24, 2007

Surgeon Frederik Pauwels farewells Brego on his discharge from the equine hospital.
Lord of the Rings equine star Brego, who carried Aragorn around Middle Earth, has survived a near-fatal bout of colic.

Brego, a 22-year-old Dutch warmblood stallion, had to undergo emergency surgery at Massey University's equine hospital.

The stallion formed such a bond with Viggo Mortensen who played Aragorn, that the actor bought him after filming ended. He is cared for by vet Ray Lenaghan and his wife Jane on their Kapiti Coast property along with several other former Lord of the Rings equine cast members.

Lenaghan said Brego had been unwell for only a few hours. After an examination, he knew he was in trouble with bad colic. The horse was taken quickly to the university's Equine Clinic and Hospital. "I told Jane when I examined him that we would have to either take him to Massey or dig a hole ... Jane drove him up and I followed in case anything happened en route."

Brego was handed over to the care of senior lecturer in equine surgery Frederik Pauwels, who had him in surgery within 40 minutes.

"It was very clear from the moment he arrived he was in a critical state," Pauwels said. "We anaesthetised him, made a mid-line incision into his belly and explored. We found a large amount of small intestine stuck in a tear in his gut - part of his bowel was stuck."

Treatment included removing almost two metres of small intestine and then joining the ends back together. "Because of the severity of the case we expected there to be problems with him afterwards, but he did really great."

If the surgery hadn't taken place, Brego would certainly have suffered a "pretty nasty death", Pauwels said. Signs of colic include stomach pain, with some horses suffering intensely. Most colic is caused by physical derangement, including a bowel becoming twisted or stuck.

Brego's life-saving surgery has captured media attention in other countries, including Australia and the United States.

Brego stayed at the vet hospital for about a week before being released on May 18. Lenaghan says he's now "brilliant".

"He is in his box, eating and drinking and hasn't put a foot wrong."

Lenaghan was allowed to observe the surgery due to his veterinary training - he practices as an equine vet. "I was thinking during the op, 'this is taking a long time'," he said. "Frederik and the staff did an amazing job."

Brego will be kept stabled for about another month to allow the wound to heal. He will then join other Lord of the Rings colleagues on the Lenaghan's property. After working as a stunt-riding double on the Peter Jackson-directed trilogy, including playing Elfen Princess Arwen, Mrs Lenaghan was delighted to end up owning her primary mount, Florian, who was Arwen's silver stallion.

Brego and Viggo Mortensen during the shooting of Lord of the Rings.

The couple also cares for Gandalf's cart pony Clydee, and several black riding horses.

Brego was known as Uraeus, a former top-level dressage horse and sire of successful sporting horses. His talent was spotted while he was in semi-retirement, and then owner and trainer, the late Lockie Richards, agreed to lease him to the Lord of the Rings production.

The Lenaghans have received an email from Viggo Mortensen, who said he was very grateful everyone acted so quickly to help save the horse. Mortensen said he was looking forward to seeing Brego again later this year, after he completes a project in Hungary.