Even as the Michigan equestrian reveled in her gleaming ex-racehorse with the haughty good looks, Sarah Szwejda never forgot Chamie, the humble little mare who first kindled her love for horses.
An unglamorous Quarter Horse mare, she was the polar opposite of the stamping steed named Miles; the a dark beautiful Thoroughbred who Szwejda adopted two years ago from New Vocations, and has set about chronicling in her blog, Miles on Miles.
His personality is so big that it was easy for Szwejda to imagine him nodding his head as a sovereign might to a subject, bestowing permission to indeed report upon his every whim and nicker.
But Chamie, on the other hand, was just a solid first-horse horse. Dependable and careful and never once refusing a jump, she carted Szwejda on countless rides in her youth. The pair had many wonderful years together before Szwejda went off to college, and sold the mare into a good situation at the Michigan riding stable where she was boarded.
But even as the years passed, and Szwejda grew up, married, and began working she always took a moment to write a quick email to Chamie’s current farm to inquire after her. Was she still doing well? Was she happy?
And every year, the reply came quickly: Chamie was doing great as a lesson horse.
Race name: Masarin
New name: Miles
Sire: Golden Voyager
Dam: Marina Bay
Foal date: Born in Chili, Oct. 16, 2000
Career earnings: $74,000This year however, coming at the worst time financially for Szwejda’s household, the news was different. The 26-year-old mare was in-between owners, and hadn’t been getting regular work for about a year. She was now in desperate need of someone to take her.
Unfortunately Szwejda’s own job had vanished, and now, after more than six years of working for a nonprofit that dispenses home-health care for Medicaid recipients, she was laid off in October.
But her husband had fortunately started working again after a layoff claimed his previous job, and together the pair, along with family and their local veterinarian, rallied to help the old mare come home.
Szwejda’s parents, who purchased the horse way back when, eagerly offered to pay for veterinary and farrier care for Chamie. “After all,” Szwejda says, “she was their horse too and they loved her.”
And by coincidence, a safety net was offered by Szwejda’s dog veterinarian; a woman who not only remembered the Quarter Horse, but was responsible for bringing her into the world 26 years ago.
“She’s the one who bred Chamie’s mother in the first place,” she says. “And she has already offered to take her if, God forbid, we can’t keep her.”
But even before Szwejda knew that help would rally forth, she also knew that she would somehow help her old friend during her time of need.
“How could I not take back this horse who I loved, and who gave me the best memories of my youth?” she asks. “I have kept tabs on her throughout her life, and there was never a question that I would give her a home if she needed one. To me, it felt like if one of your kids needed a place to stay, most parents wouldn’t think twice.
“There was nothing amazing about it. It was the only thing to do.”
So Chamie was moved to Szwejda’s Lansing, Michigan barn on Nov. 4 and has been getting TLC from all quarters.
And Szwejda, determined to hang on to her first horse, is working extra hours at the barn where she boards both Miles and Chamie. This allows her to defray expenses, and at the same time, spend time lunging and riding Chamie to help restore her topline and muscle tone.
On a recent mid-November day, a few weeks after the mare arrived, the pair hit their old stride again.
“I was riding her at a walk and trot, and she did everything I asked. Then I thought, what the heck, and asked her for a canter transition from the walk at the end of our ride,” she says. “She took that cue, never missed a beat, and it was lovely.”
Although not ready yet for regular work, the goal is for Chamie to build adequate muscle tone so she can enjoy trail riding in her retirement years. And maybe even teach Miles a thing or two about picking up the canter on cue. “I’ve told him he needs to start learning his walk-canter transitions.”
Szwejda always delights in the thrill of the ride, and the joy of connecting with her horses, and she bubbles over with enthusiasm in her blog posts. For two years, she has ridden, cared for, and blogged about Miles. “I connect with Miles on a level that I never had with another horse,” she says.
But now that Chamie has come back into to her life, her blog musings also encourage a secondary message.
“If there is a horse who gave you something, please … make sure that the horse who carted you around and taught you to ride is OK,” she recently posted in her chronicles of Miles on Miles.
“That same horse may need you now.”