Sweet Toro; heart of a champion
For some people it’s the thunder of their hooves as they pound the ground beneath in a race to the finish line all in an exhilarating matter of seconds. But, for three Orange teachers it was their love of horses when they decided to pool their money together and buy a race horse.
After doing their homework with intense studying in an effort to learn everything about quarter horses, they set off to the Texas Quarter Horse yearling sale in 1991. With catalogues in hand, they arrived early to see the yearlings and were prepared for their adventures to come. One magnificent bay filly who was “spunky and light on her feet” caught their eye.
“At an auction you don’t want to look too interested in a horse or it could drive up the selling price,” said Shirley Marshall, retired teacher and race horse owner. “So we played it cool.”
The trainer they had found was alerted to their choice and double checks were made to confirm they were making a wise investment. During the auction, many horses are brought into the arena at one time. Then one by one each is presented and the auctioneer begins his chant until the horse is sold.
The ladies anxiously awaited their chosen horse to appear. Finally, Sweet Toro pranced into the arena. She was very alert and turned her ears and head to every sound. Her dark mane was braided and had burgundy and gray pompoms tied onto her bridle. Marshall still has the pompoms to always remember her beloved Sweet Toro.
Finally, the moment had arrived and the bidding began. After several bids the auctioneer loudly says, “sold!” The ladies were then the proud owner of a race horse. According to Marshall, this is not the name they would have chosen, but they did what they set out to do which was acquire a “fine” horse. Sweet Toro would prove to be an even finer choice than they ever dreamed possible.
“It’s not that she made a fortune, but it was her courage and she was a true testament to the heart of an American Quarter Horse,” Marshall said.
Sweet Toro began her racing career in Houston at the Sam Houston Race Park. From there she went to the Lone Star Race Track near Fort Worth and then to Dallas to race at Delta Downs.
“She won several races and always gave 100 percent effort,” Marshall said.
While racing at the Lone Star Race Track, Sweet Toro contracted a parasite which attached to her spinal cord. While being loaded into the trailer at the veterinarian’s office, she fell forward and the horse next to her kicked her in the head causing her jaw to break.
Sweet Toro recuperated at Scarlett Hill Farms. The horse’s strong will enabled her to return to racing by the next season.
Two years later, a jockey noticed the bit seemed to be bothering Sweet Toro’s mouth. It was another trip to the veterinarian’s office for the horse. Only this time, the news would be heartbreaking.
The ladies were devastated to learn Sweet Toro had carcinoma of the jaw. But, this horse was not done yet.
The only thing they could do was to take her to Louisiana State University where veterinarians had proposed to operate on her jaw and replace the jaw bone with two of her ribs.
“It was the only way to save her life,” Marshall said.
The trio made the decision to go ahead with the surgery not realizing the drastic physical change which would befall such a beautiful animal.
“It was shocking to see Sweet Toro with her tongue hanging out and her jaw so disformed,” Marshall said.
By the time the horse returned home she seemed to be content. But, the ladies wondered how she could possibly eat. Once again, their beloved horse showed her spirit and grazed on grass. She also ate a special diet which helped to keep her healthy.
“She was as spunky as ever,” Marshall said.
The ladies were in awe of a mare who was in the same paddock with Sweet Toro. According to Marshall, the mare, who was blind in one eye, seemed to understand Sweet Toro needed extra time to eat. The mare waited patiently while Sweet Toro ate. When Sweet Toro finished, the mare would then take her turn eating.
After a few months, the partnership decided to just let the horse live out her days peacefully. However, the doctor who had saved her life suggested they breed her. Sweet Toro went on to produce four foals. She seemed to enjoy being a mother and even tried to adopt a foal from another mare.
As the years went on, age was beginning to catch up to the horse. She was 15 years old when her health began to decline. Her breeding didn’t “take” and she began to lose hair and weight.
“She went to live in Virgil Spence’s backyard where he gave her great care,” Marshall said.
Finally, he said it was time to put her down. The partnership had dwindled from three ladies to two and they were left with another difficult decision.
They did what they had to do and called for someone to put her down and remove the body. But, Sweet Toro was not ready yet.
When they arrived the following morning, she had a foal running around her. The breeding had indeed worked, but because of all the tumors the veterinarian was unable to find signs of life inside the horse. Although small, the foal was named Miracle Angel Wings and was alive and doing well. Sweet Toro was given a reprieve and would be allowed to live a few more months of life to enjoy her new baby.
The blood line of the quarter horse with a champion heart lives on. Marshall owns a brood mare which was once a foal of Sweet Toro. Village Sweetie still produces strong colts and fillies for generations to come where others may also come to feel the thunder of a race horse.
Pictured: Sweet Toro captured the hearts of her owners for many years. The champion race horse won many races and produced four foals while enduring incredible odds.