The dark bay horse, a mare, was tall, spirited and easy on the eyes. She was almost black and was a strikingly beautiful Thoroughbred. On her forehead, she sported a short white blaze.
Her name was Burma. Only six years old, Burma was affectionate but feisty. She was a registered Thoroughbred, with extra doses of high strung and zip. Burma had proven she was difficult to handle, chewing in the stall, tangling her tack, and she had zeroed out on the track. Probably the worst thing about Burma was her tendency to colic.
Yet 16-year-old Megan Chance simply adored her.
"This is the horse I want," she decided after riding Burma back in 1998.
Her parents did what they could to talk Chance out of this horse. They really wanted her to consider a calmer horse. Chance wanted a big horse with a huge personality to go with it, and she was sure Burma was the one she wanted. This horse would test her ability as a horsewoman and horse trainer.
Burma became her horse.
During their six years together, Chance worked with Burma, calmed her, earned her trust and nursed her through many colic attacks. Their bond was deep and mutual.
Chance attended college at Meredith Manor Equestrian College in 2001 and Burma went with her. The two stayed together again when Chance began working at the famed Olympian Frank Chapot’s barn in New Jersey.
"She was more than my horse or my pet," Chance said. "She was my best buddy."
In 2004, Chance was headed on an extended trip with a friend, and she sought excellent care for her horse while she was away. She decided to send her to a stable in New York, signed a handwritten contract and there Burma was to be bred. Regular contact with the barn satisfied chance that her horse was doing well.
Meanwhile, Chance moved to North Carolina to run a stable with her friend. She stayed in touch with the New York farm and found out her horse had miscarried. It was agreed between the New York stable owner and Chance that the mare would stay an extra year so she could be rebred. Chance learned that Burma was once again pregnant.
But then all conversations between them stopped. Chance’s calls were not being returned. It’s when the phone was suddenly disconnected that Chance panicked.
There seemingly was no trace of the farm owner. What happened? Where was her horse?
Much later, Chance faced the reality that something must have happened to Burma. Her horse must have died.
Years passed. It was July 6, 2011. Pen 10 in Cranbury, New Jersey, held two beautiful and very frightened thoroughbred mares. The bay was skinny and the taller nearly-black mare with the pretty white blaze on her forehead was wild-eyed and fearful. Each had a freeze brand – one was t-47 and the other was t-38. Sad reality was that Pen 10 was a “kill pen” and the horses were destined to be butchered unless they were bailed out in time.
As Annette Sullivan watched the auction via computer from her Newtown, Connecticut horse farm, she couldn’t help but wonder how these good-looking horses found their way into the kill pen, especially since the dark horse was somehow connected to the Chapot stables. She contacted a friend that ran a horse rescue.
They struck a deal. Sullivan called the auction and told them, "I'll bail hips 911 and 912." She paid $325 for both horses.
Registration papers identified the dark mare as Burma's Lady, a shy, frightened 15-year-old granddaughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. The bay mare, the protective horse and obvious close friend of the other mare, was an 18 year old named Ready to Cry. Sullivan named the horses Lady and Anna.
Sullivan was curious about their pasts. Both were listed as broodmares. She emailed the stable listed as last owner – All-D-Reiterhof Farm, Long Valley, New Jersey. She was immensely disturbed by what she found out.
The farm is a federally-approved quarantine station that conducts testing of imported stallions for CEM (contagious equine metritis). This venerial disease is problematic if it spreads through a horse population. Stallions that carry CEM show no symptoms, so they are bred to two mares. If the mares are not infected, the stallion can be released from quarantine. Lady and Anna had been test mares for five years, having been bred many times by imported stallions, injected with hormone drugs and then flushed to assure no pregnancy had resulted.
Sullivan was horrified by what the mares had endured.
The owner of the farm Armin Wagner was upset because he had sent the horses to slaughter. “Why do you have my horses?” He stressed that these mares could not be bred because their “reproductive organs had been compromised by all the testing, and Anna had a serious uterine infection.”
Still, Sullivan wondered about Lady. The mare was a wonderful riding horse. "She has carriage and floats with you and engages," Sullivan said. "You could feel the energy. There was something so special about this horse."
A youngster who had been riding at the stable for years, also fell in love with Lady. For her 13th birthday, Haley McNulty begged her parents to buy Lady. To Sullivan the two were a perfect match, yet she had a few doubts about Lady's health. The mare was gaining weight and looked pregnant despite Wagner’s assurances it wasn’t possible.
When a vet confirmed the pregnancy in late September, Sullivan was devastated. Lady really couldn’t carry a foal to term and by now she was too old for a first foal. Sullivan would have to tell McNulty that she could not have her parents purchase the horse.
Meanwhile, Megan Chance Adams (Chance had married) saw a picture on Facebook sent by a friend, and recognized the horse as her Burma.
Gasping in shock, she screamed into the phone to her mother,
“I found Burma. Oh my God, she's alive."
"Are you sure?" her mother asked.
"Of course I'm sure," Megan said, sobbing hysterically. "I know my horse."
Chance Adams called Sullivan and there was no doubt that she had found her horse. Sullivan filled Chance Adams in on everything the horse had endured. The two women talked a long time that evening and frequently after that.
On October 26, Burma went into labor. She had a rough time and more than once, the vet in attendance thought the mare might not make it through this. The stunted foal was twisted and had to be pulled out, stillborn. Burma screamed, reared, banged around in the stall, yanked out her IV, and only when they brought Anna into the stall, did Burma grow quiet. The humans wept.
Finally, Burma expelled the toxic placenta. She had pulled through her ordeal.
Friday after Thanksgiving, Chance Adams drove to Zoar Ridge stables in Connecticut to see Burma - for the first time in over six years – and she was terrified. As she approached the horses grazing in the pasture and called Burma’s name, the horse looked up, pointed her ears, and then she walked over. After all this time, her lovely mare still remembered her.
For Chance Adams, the reunion with Burma brought back a flood of memories – and questions.
Turns out there is even more to this happy ending. But that’s another story.
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