As the sun set on their modest old barn, racing warhorse Sing Me Back Home turned his face toward the woman who loved him.
And though cancerous tumors had pushed his once finely sculpted head into a battlefield of lumps, Christina Sawelsky reached up and pulled him close.
Holding his muzzle with her right hand, she leaned in and kissed his eye, thanking him for being such a good friend to her these past five years, and wishing him Godspeed.
Sing Me Back Home
Dam: Pocket Tunes, by Tunerup
Foal date: Feb. 24, 1998
Earnings: $619, 541 in 114 starts“I was telling him how much I loved him, and that I was sorry I couldn’t do any more,” says Sawelsky, a registered nurse who spent the last year helping the sick horse battle cancer. After multiple surgeries, one removing his left eye, and a regimen of drugs, painkillers and chemotherapy, their moments dwindled to one last trail ride, at dusk, on Dec. 12.
“Sing love-love-loved trail rides. So my daughter Elisabeth and I met at the barn and we went out with Sing and our other OTTB Charlie. We took turns riding him bareback. And when we got back, we gave him a grooming fit for a king. We even oiled his feet.”
She adds, “We prepped him like we were going to a show.”
The next day, the graded-stakes winner, who’d run 114 times and earned $619,000, was humanely euthanized. Though he had fought, and Sawelsky had tried every medical intervention she could, with no thought to cost, Sing Me Back Home had reached a point where he was at risk for a rupture or seizure, which would send him out of this life in pain.
So in the nineteenth century barn where Sing lived out five golden years in Sharon, Mass., the horse and rider parted early the next morning.
But the spirit of the racehorse —all that heart and toughness in the face of hard times—inspired Sawelsky to carry on, and not to wallow.
Standing on the same frozen ground where 20 years ago Sawelsky first came to investigate adopting an OTTB, she returned with her daughter Elisabeth to find yet another Thoroughbred; not to replace Sing, but to continue a tradition of horse adoption in honor of the great TRF horses she has owned.
Prior to Sing, she owned Key to the Turf for 12 years. And after he died in 2010, Sing arrived.
“Thoroughbreds are amazing animals. They have such heart,” she says. “They give everything they can, and even if they don’t have the speed, they still get out there and work everyday.”
Sing ran 114 times until age 10, she adds. He retired sound. If any horse deserved all the love, the time, and in the end, medical intervention, it was him, she says.
And when it was time to say goodbye, she notified the TRF and drove out with a plan to adopt Quantity, a beautiful chestnut who sustained a race-career ending avulsion fracture after 20 starts and $175,853 in earnings.
She was all set to take him too. But then she and her daughter spotted Private Relations, a War Front baby who sold for over $300,000 as a yearling. Mother and daughter debated between the two. Private Relations had the filled-out, robust good looks of a Warmblood. But Quantity had a big-strided, floating trot. And, she adds, he looked so worried.
“We wanted to take Private Relations, but I looked at Quantity and thought, we can’t just leave him,” she says.
So she decided to do what she felt was right. In tribute to Sing Me Back Home, she opted to give both horses a forever home.
“My dream is to start a sanctuary for horses and dogs who’s owners die, or are in a nursing home, or get deployed,” she says. “As a nurse, I see so many animals who end up in shelters because the families can’t take care of them … my sanctuary would be a tribute to my war horse Sing. I’d call it The Senior Center at the Sing Me Back Home Sanctuary.”