By HELEN O'NEILL, Associated Press
The mare was tall and spirited and a joy to behold, galloping across the pasture with her head high, lithe and fast and fearless.
A dark bay, nearly black, with a dramatic white blaze on her forehead, everyone thought Burma — the diva of the barn — was a beauty.
But, though friendly and affectionate, the 6-year-old thoroughbred was practically impossible to handle. High-strung and feisty, she swayed impatiently in her stall, chewed the wooden doors, got tangled in her harness, stuck her nose into any box or bucket she could find. She had proved hopeless on the track, despite having a distant blood connection to the great racehorse Man o' War. She had ugly feet that required special shoes, and an alarming tendency to colic.
To 16-year-old Megan Chance, she was perfect.
"This is the horse I want," she announced jubilantly in 1998, after riding Burma for the first time at a New Jersey stable.
Her parents were uneasy, urging her to consider a quieter, more manageable mount. But Megan was sure. A tall girl who spent every free minute at the stables — grooming, riding, mucking out stalls, giving lessons — she wanted a big horse with a big personality, one that demanded attention and care, one that would truly test her ability as a horsewoman and trainer.
Her parents relented. And Burma was hers.
For six years, they were inseparable. Megan worked on pacing her new horse, calming her, grooming her, earning her trust. From the start it was clear that Burma would never be a good hunter or jumper: She didn't have the calm, steady temperament to win in the show ring. And she was sickly — Megan endured whole nights in the barn, nursing her horse through bouts of colic, an intestinal disease that's sometimes fatal. But Megan loved Burma's adventurous streak, the fact that she was willing to try anything, loved their deepening bond.
When Megan enrolled at Meredith Manor Equestrian College in West Virginia in 2001, Burma went too. And when Megan graduated in 2003 and went to work at the New Jersey stables of famed Olympian equestrian Frank Chapot, Burma accompanied her.
"She was more than my horse or my pet," Megan said. "She was my best buddy."
But, as many horse lovers will attest — and as Megan would discover — a horse who is your best buddy can break your heart.
In 2004, when Megan decided to take a couple of months to travel across the country with her friend Katie Gaylor, her biggest dilemma was who could take care of Burma.
Megan remembered a conversation several years earlier with the horse trainer who had shipped Burma to West Virginia. She is so lovely, Megan recalled the woman saying. If you ever want to breed her, please call me.
Megan contacted the woman, who ran a stable in New York's Orange County. They made a deal, Megan says. The woman would pay all Burma's costs — food, shelter, veterinary care — and in return she would breed the mare and keep the foal.
In the fall of 2004, Megan dropped Burma off at well-appointed stables in the New York countryside. They signed a handwritten contract, Megan says, and then she and her friend took off on a six-week cross-country tour. Along the way, she kept in regular phone contact with Burma's barn; returning for Thanksgiving, she visited her horse at the stables, and found her happy and well cared for — and pregnant.
Confident that Burma was in good hands, Megan moved to North Carolina to take over a stable with Katie. She kept a picture of Burma on the dash of the car and had photos of her all over the house. She would call every few weeks to ask how her horse was doing — and that was how she learned that Burma had miscarried.
She agreed to leave her at the stable for up to a year longer so the breeder could try for another foal.
Months passed. In the spring of 2005 the breeder told Megan that Burma was pregnant again.
That is the last conversation Megan recalls.
At first Megan paid little attention to the fact that her phone calls were not being returned. But when she called one day and the phone was disconnected, she panicked.
She tried to find the woman on the Internet, but she'd left no trace. She tried email, but her messages bounced back.