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Star Sandmeyer PrimeTime column: Old horse learns new tricks in retirement

Meet Tozzio. I raised him from a foal. I also owned his mother, but sadly, when she was 39 years old, I had to put her down.

Tozzio is 30 and has longevity in his genes. He is a Tri-onno Reg. Paint Tobiano and was on the show circuit for 10 years. He won 12 trophies and many, many ribbons. I retired him from that and made him into my trail horse. He is totally bomb-proof. He has been everywhere - Medora, Montana and state horse parks throughout Minnesota.

He loves children. When I put a child on his back, he walks very slowly. He's not like a bull in a china shop.

He carried the Olympic Torch in 1990, and of course, on television. Tozzio gets along well with any and all horses. When he wants grain or a treat, he gives me a hug. He continues to give them until I break down and give him something.

Another habit he has is when he gets done with his tub or bucket of grain, he picks it up and gives it a throw! He learned that on his own, but now the rest of my herd has learned to do it also.

Within the past year, I have noticed he was having trouble holding my weight. He would make frequent stops along the trail and would have a hard time catching up. So then again I decided to retire him from the saddle. The last ride I had on him became a horrific ordeal.

While I was riding him by a driveway, two pit bulls came running out. They ran around under Tozzio's feet and then latched onto the back of his leg. They wouldn't let go. He kicked, he spun in circles, but nothing was working. I didn't dare get off him not knowing if the dogs would come after me. I yelled and yelled. After about two minutes, Tozzy made one big kick and the dogs detached themselves. It was only then I got off to see the damage.

Tozzy had puncture wounds up and down his back leg. After a few days, he became very ill. Tozzy became weaker and weaker looking like Holstein cow with all his bones sticking out.

Tozzy had the will to live. It wasn't his time to go yet. I did manage to nurse him back to health.

Now, as you can see from the photo, Tozzy has a new job. I trained him to pull my cart, and he took right to it. He was a hit at our local fair where I gave rides to children. When I handed them the reins and told them what to do, it was an experience they wouldn't forget.

The old boy is getting pretty gray, but he's a real trooper. I am so proud of him, and I love him with all my heart. It will be a sad day when I have to say goodbye to Tozzio.

Star Sandmeyer, Tozzio and her other horses live on Circle Star Ranch in Bemidji. This article first appeared in The Valley Equestrian Newspaper.