The Jurga Report: Horse Health Headlines

Film Star Horse Survives Colic Surgery Scare in New Zealand; Watch the Video

By Fran Jurga | May 23, 2007

Brego-Viggo-horse-montage-791053
Massey University's equine hospital in New Zealand is reporting today that good is still triumphing over evil, at least when it comes to horses referred to their clinic. Brego, one of the superstar horses from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, is recovering from emergency colic surgery performed last week at the university's vet college hospital.

Veterinarian Ray Lenaghan is the caretaker of the 22-year-old Dutch warmblood stallion while owner/actor Viggo Mortensen is away, and he noticed that the horse was uncomfortable. The horse was rushed to Massey's equine hospital in the town of Palmerston North on the North Island and was ready for surgery in 40 minutes.

Owner Viggo Mortensen played the role of Aragorn in the film series. Brego is relentlessly pursued by a legion of villains throughout the film, but is, of course, invincible as only Tolkien's horses can be.

The horse's true villain turned out to be a tear in his bowel. Surgery was performed by university specialist Frederik Pauwels at Massey.

"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," Pauwels said. The surgeon removed more than six feet of intestine to repair the damage and noted that the horse would probably have died without the intervention.

Brego recovered at Massey before returning to Lenaghan's farm and is expected to be fine after a month or so of stall rest. Several other Lord of the Rings equine cast members reside at the farm. Irish-born Lenaghan, who is also a three-day event rider, was consulting vet during the filming of the three movies and his wife, rider Jane Abbott, was Liz Tyler's stunt double and played Princess Arwen in the films. The Rings films were the first I ever saw to list veterinarians and farriers in the credits at the end of the film. (I'm one of "those" people who sit in the theater and read all the credits as the lights come on.)

Actor Mortensen purchased the horse at the end of filming of the epic. Brego, whose real name is Uraeus, is a former sport horse sire and FEI-level dressage horse ridden by the late Lockie Richards. Of course, he has his own web site, but details of the surgery have not been posted there yet.

Massey University is the largest college in New Zealand and is somewhat akin to a "national university" for the tiny, horse-loving country. Several leading international veterinarians including Colorado State orthopedics expert (and New Zealand native) Dr. Wayne McIlwraith and Australian laminitis researcher Dr. Chris Pollitt are graduates of Massey's vet school.

Watch a video feature on Brego and his recent health drama on New Zealand's Channel 3 News.

Jumping Foal
by Fran Jurga
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