Sierra’s Sweedie was the first baby born on our farm, which that in itself made her very special. She spent most of her growing up years on our first farm, turned out with the rest of the herd. Every night, we’d call to the horses and every night, the herd would run in from somewhere on the 200 acres and put themselves “away” in their stalls. Sweedie however made this a game. One we didn’t truly understand until she started her race horse career. As the herd of horses would thunder in across the fields, Sweedie would stand at the top of the hill and wait until all of the horses were well out in front and then she would turn on the speed and race past everyone claiming her place as the winner. This happened from the time she was weaned from her mom, until the time we started training her at 2 years of age. Looking back now, she had placed herself into her own training program, well before we did.
Sweedie turned out to be super athletic. She was big and powerful and boy did she like to run. Because hunters and jumpers were our primary business, we employed a trainer to teach her to race. She excelled quickly, was purchased by some friends of ours and was sent up north to start her formal race horse career. From the get go, Sweedie’s M.O. was racing at the back of the pack until the stretch when she would pour on the speed, passing everyone in her wake. With each race we waited with baited breath and watched in excitement as she made her move. However as well as she ran, she had yet to win a race.
One race in particular, Sweedie stumbled out of the gate, getting a late start and then didn’t seem to run her usual race. This time, she stayed at the back of the pack. We immediately thought she must be hurt and that the jockey must be holding her back. Then all of a sudden, you could see her shake her head, and pour on the speed, racing past several horses trying to catch up. We later found out that she had smacked her head in the starting gate. It must have stunned her pretty hard, as the jockey said she wasn’t with it for most of the race, but then all of a sudden, she “woke up” looked around, realized she was in a race and then ran her heart out coming in second. To make the story even more amazing, we later found out that she had broken loose from the pony horse and had lapped the track at full speed with her jockey prior to the race. She had that kind of heart.
After several races, all in the money, Sweedie unfortunately came up with an injured suspensory. Her owners retired her and returned her back to us. We had no intention on racing her again, but we were determined to make her sound. So we took our time, spending a year doctoring and resting her leg. We started with small sessions on her back, mostly trotting to strengthen the long forgotten muscles. Sweedie was thrilled by the attention and the rides and as she grew stronger, she hashed out her own plan. We spent months trotting her. She was in incredible shape and completely sound. However she wanted to gallop, so we employed a neighboring exercise rider to ride her lightly on the track. But as the days turned into weeks and Sweedie grew stronger, you could obviously see the light in her eyes had returned. She wanted to race.
We decided to send her to a trainer at Calder race track in Miami. Within two weeks, she was ready for her comeback race. As we excitedly made our way to the track my husband Chris urgently nudged me towards Sweedie’s barn to give her a “pep” talk prior to the race. I approached her stall. She already had her “game face” on. I stroked her mane, told her how proud we were of her and to just do her best. And for the first time since she was born, she responded to me. She told me “she knew what she needed to do and was going to do her best to win!”
With that, I excitedly took off to the paddock to watch nervously with the trainer and the rest of the family. Boy was Sweedie excited … she danced nervously through the paddock, actually tramping the shrubs lining the mounting area. The jockey looked terrified. To make matters worse, she refused to trot next to the pony horse, constantly trying to break away. ( We later found out this poor jockey wet his pants prior to the race! ) This did not look good, however we remained hopeful.
And then they were off. Sweedie broke well from the starting gate, running along side her strongest contender, when all of a sudden, the contender veered left through a small break in the rail and then through a barricade losing her jockey in the mix. Sweedie, never faltered, even as the loose horse rejoined the field minus her jockey. Sweedie ran her race as she had always done. We watched in amazement as she approached the finish line and then held our breathes as she won the race!
Thrilled, we made quite the scene running to the paddock to congratulate our horse. And do you know what, Sweedie was smiling, she was beaming. She couldn’t have been more proud of herself in that moment, standing tall for the pictures, receiving pats and praise from family, grooms and trainers. She had done it. She had waited for this moment and here it was. She had saved the win for us.