The story of Tracy Porter and her 23-year-old paso fino horse named Caz reached a climax last month when the Wisconsin Horse Council named Caz “Horse of the Year.”

Porter compared the honor to a lifetime achievement award. Caz received it in front of a prestigious regional audience at the annual Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, one of the biggest equine gatherings in the country.

But this happy ending might have been impossible more than a decade ago.

It’s difficult for a horse owner to explain the bond with her animal to someone who has never sat in a saddle. But even from afar, it’s easy to see that the many hours of work required to care for a horse create a bond that might be far stronger than one with a dog or cat.

In the case of Porter and Caz, they helped each other recover from serious injuries, which strengthened their friendship.

“He’s taken care of me, and I’ve taken care of him,” she said. “It’s just been a good partnership, a good relationship.”

In 2002, Porter broke two vertebrae in a horse accident that left her “like a crumpled potato chip.” She could hardly walk, let alone ride, and required experimental surgery to start the arduous path back to normalcy.

Porter used Caz to regain her riding skills. If she slipped off, he waited patiently until she could haul herself back into the saddle.

Three years later, the roles were reversed.

Caz was caught outdoors in a severe storm with tornado-force winds.

He showed signs of whiplash, but it was hard to pinpoint his injury. It was obvious something was wrong, Porter said.

After several wrong diagnoses, Porter finally learned that Caz had an injury to his hindquarters that required extensive therapy.

“God puts things in our life to make us who we are. That horse there, I truly believe God gave me that horse for a lot of reasons,” Porter said. “He’s just been a wonderful horse his whole life.”

After both recovered from their injuries, Porter and Caz returned to their busy schedule of community involvement.

They have appeared in Zorro-themed performances with the Rock Aqua Jays water-ski show team.

Porter also has brought Caz to elementary schools to help kids get comfortable with horses and learn about them.

Caz has served alongside Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmastime and regularly appeared in Fourth of July parades. He has helped teach kids how to ride, and Porter has used him as a training tool for other horse owners.

He’s even a nominee to get his own model through Breyer, a popular company that makes animal figurines.

All of this while Caz continues to enter competitions and rack up more recognition throughout the industry.

During an hour-long conversation, Porter several times referred to Caz as an honest horse. Caz is like a good friend who is reliable and always has your best interest at heart, she said.

“I totally and completely can’t say enough about who he is as a horse. I’ve many times said there’s a living person inside that horse,” she said. “If you really listen to anything, you can hear it talk to you. He’s really loud and clear in a good way.

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