Seven-year-old Brianna Scanlan shares the love of horses, dogs and being outdoors with many children her age. Born with numerous physical and developmental challenges, including epilepsy and cardiac abnormalities, it's more difficult for her to participate. But with the help of a special canine friend and her sporting family, she's a popular figure in her local hunt field in Ireland.


Brianna out aside on Simbo with the local hunt. Photo courtesy of Arabella Scanlan.

Arabella Scanlan, Brianna's mother, explained, "Brianna struggles with everyday life and is under the care of 14 different medical specialists. The main problem being neurological - she suffers from severe epilepsy and also has the added problem that during seizures, her brain doesnt tell her heart to keep beating." She continued, "This causes her to go into v-fib, and we've had to resuscitate her four times now."

Despite these trying diagnoses, Brianna's family has encouraged her outdoor activities and she spends time daily in the stables. The family has always had Great Danes, and one in particular, Charlie, has bonded closely with Brianna. Her mother and sister report that Charlie's behavior changes about 20 minutes before Brianna has a seizure, which gives them notice to keep her safe.

Also living with low muscle tone, Brianna - once expected never to walk - leaned on Charlie as a support when she first started trying to stand. With the dog at her side, her balance and movement have improved and she can now get around on her own. Her family helped her sit on a horse from an early age, and as many therapeutic riding programs demonstrate, the supervised exercise helped build her overall body strength. On her pony, Simbo, she has hunted both astride and aside with her mother.


Brianna and Charlie. Photo courtesy of Arabella Scanlan.

Even with her challenges, Brianna's outlook is upbeat. "Brianna is nonverbal, but she always gets her point across," Arabella said. "She has never failed to continue smiling and making people happy - her whole being is just infectious. She is truly my hero."

For a look at Brianna's interaction with her canine and equine friends, view an Irish television segment here.

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