At the end, peace and love prevail for Sing Me Back Home
By Francis LaBelle
“Sing me back home a song I used to hear.
Make my old memories come alive.
Sing me away and turn back the year.
Sing me back home before I die” – Merle Haggard
Christmas has undergone many incarnations through the years. Still, its basic message of peace and love remains the same, despite the trappings, the cynicism and even the non-believers.
This season, Christina Sawelsky is providing peace and love for Sing Me Back Home, a retired Thoroughbred who she adopted from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) in April, 2010.
It is not easy.
“His time with us is very short; just matter of days,” said Christina, a nurse who owns a farm in Sharon, MA. “About a year ago, he developed a very aggressive form of cancer. There is nothing more we can do, except to make his last days as peaceful and comfortable as possible.
“He is the most amazing, strongest and most beautiful horse I have ever owned. He will take a very large part of my heart with him.”
Like so many generous people who have adopted, fostered or sponsored horses from TRF, Christina was fully aware of the responsibility she was undertaking in providing a decent home for a retired racehorse. Inevitably, she would one day have to say good-bye.
One year ago, Sing Me Back Home began to bleed from his nostrils. Christina took him to the Myhre Equine Clinic in Rochester, NH. Surgery was required to remove a large tumor that threatened his left eye.
“He was diagnosed with nasosinus adenocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer,” Christina said. “I looked it up on the major vet school web sites and could only find a handful of documented cases where people had opted to treat. Prognosis was very poor, but I felt that a warhorse like `Sing’ deserved the chance to fight for a good life no matter how short it would be. We decided on a second surgery to remove his left eye. He recovered from that like the champ he is.”
Sing Me Back Home’s toughness was never at issue.
For nine years, Sing Me Back Home raced at nearly every track on the East Coast. The Florida-bred son of Homebuilder debuted on September 1, 2000 at Calder Race Course in his home state, beginning a career that would take him to Gulfstream, Hialeah, Delaware Park, The Meadowlands, Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Saratoga, Monmouth, Tampa Bay Downs, Suffolk Downs and one Midwest stop at old Sportsman’s Park in Illinois.
Sing Me Back Home’s racing career ended on November 7, 2008 with a
seventh-place finish at Suffolk and career earnings in excess of $600,000. It was his 114th race.
Although he had been stakes-placed during his racing life and even had a fourth-place finish behind Aldebaran in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Forego Handicap in 2003 for then owners Wachtel and Double S Stables, Sing Me Back Home had labored in his later racing years. From May 7, 2007 until his last race, he made all 38 of his
starts at Suffolk, with three wins.
It was well beyond his time to retire.
Such a horse was certain to have made a lot of fans over the years, and one of them was John Sherman, then a Massachusetts State Racing Commissioner. He organized a group of horsemen to put up the money to purchase Sing Me Back Home with the intention of retiring him to the TRF Second Chances Farm in Plymouth, MA.
It was from Plymouth that Christina adopted Sing Me Back Home. This was nothing new for her. She had previously adopted another TRF horse, Key to the Turf, who she nicknamed “Casey.” When Casey was put down in February, 2010, Christina looked for another TRF horse to adopt.
She not only wound up with Sing Me Back Home, but one month after his adoption, she brought home Charlie Business. “Sing” and “Charlie” became fast friends.
As his racing record shows, Sing Me Back Home was not one to freeload. He needed work and Christina and her daughter, Elisabeth, kept him busy. He competed in local hunter shows, barrel raced and participated in the Thoroughbred Breed Demonstration at Equine Affair.
His favorite activity became exploring the farm’s 85 acres of trails with Christina and Elisabeth. He also like hanging out with Charlie Business and Midnight, a miniature horse. The three of them,
according to Christina, are “inseparable.”
Because of the closeness of everyone at the farm, Sing Me Back Home’s ordeal has been tough on everyone this year. Yet, Sing Me Back Home has proven his own toughness time and again. He even preferred to stay outdoors despite New England’s record snowfall last winter.
“We kept him outside most of the time because the snow was so deep that he couldn’t do much running around anyway, and he is not a horse that does well being cooped up,” Christina said. “Then, we would bring him in at night to a warm stall.”
Sing Me Back Home appeared to be doing well, but one evening, Christina noticed that he was very still and his head was down. He had spiked a fever, and Christina immediately brought him back to Myhre.
“He spent a week and a half at the hospital and, when he came home to Christina, “he was a new man.” Not long after his return home, he began going back out on his beloved trail rides.
In late spring, Christina noticed a lump in the surgical scar on Sing Me Back Home’s forehead. Her worst fears were realized: the cancer was growing. His cancer had progressed and options were limited. Finally, they agreed upon monthly chemo injections directly into the tumor to slow or, hopefully, stop its growth.
To save Sing Me Back Home the trip to New Hampshire every month, Dr. Ron Vin made house calls. Sing Me Back Home continued to eat well and enjoy being ridden, but the tumor continued to grow.
A few weeks ago, the decision was made to stop the injections.
“We just took him on a trail ride (December 7), but his time with us is very short,” Christina said. “Dr. Vin will be coming out to help him cross the Rainbow Bridge very soon. He will leave this world
peacefully, painlessly and surrounded by people who love him.”