Toronto Star

Toronto’s equine enforcers find respite on the farm

Tony and Patti Page open their Meaford farmland to police horses ill or tired from pounding a beat

- ROBERTA AVERY SPECIAL TO THE STAR

MEAFORD— It’s perhaps ironic that, for a former Toronto police officer and self-proclaimed “city boy,” a life-changing moment came from watching a tired and sick police horse gallop across an open field, head and tail held high in pure joy.

“It was the best sight in the world and I got a great kick out of it,” said Tony Page, 69, who retired in 1991 after 25 years on the Toronto force and now runs a sanctuary for the Metro Toronto Police Mounted Unit’s 30 to 35 horses.

In 1995, Page and his wife Patti — a former sergeant with the Ontario Provincial Police — bought a farm in the Georgian Bay community of Meaford. Although the only thing Tony knew about horses was that “they had a tail and four legs,” he decided it was time to fulfill his lifelong dream of owning a horse.

In his years with the force, first at 11 Division and later at 22 Division and headquarte­rs, Tony had always admired the discipline of the mounted unit’s horses, so he thought a retired police horse would be ideal. “We had a big barn, but I had never ridden a horse in my life,” he said. The mounted unit, formed in 1886, only retires about two horses a year, so Tony was told there could be a long wait before a retired horse would be available. But a few weeks later he got a call: Would he be interested in Dragoon? The 9-yearold gelding Clydesdale-Hackney cross had become too dominant with the other horses on patrol.

“The barn wasn’t even ready, but we didn’t hesitate,” said Page.

The Pages arranged for Dragoon to be boarded at another farm while theirs was made ready for an equine resident — and then Tony took some riding lessons.

Dragoon had been with the force for seven years, so Tony thought it would be an easy ride. “I was wrong. I did everything I had been taught, pressed my knees, dug in my heels but he didn’t move an inch,” he said.

It took Tony three weeks to get Dragoon to follow even basic instructio­ns, but he persisted and the pair developed a special bond.

A few months later, Tony got another call from the mounted unit asking if the Pages would take in Stormy, a horse sick with heaves — a respirator­y disease that makes breathing difficult — for a short respite to recuperate.

Stormy arrived at the Pages’ farm tired and very sick. They removed his horseshoes and put him in a field. “I don’t think he had seen a big field before so, at first, he didn’t know what to do,” said Tony.

Within a few days, Stormy and Dragoon had made friends and one day Tony looked out to see the two horses running across the field.

“They were horses being horses. It was wonderful to see,” he said.

That was the life-changing moment that led the Pages to set up a haven for mounted unit horses recuperati­ng from injuries or ones that just need a break from pounding the pavement. “They work very hard, so they deserve to do nothing for a while,” said Page. For Patti, the greatest reward for all the hard work taking care of horses — mucking out stalls, hauling feed and exercising them in all weather — is seeing her husband relax and put behind him the tension of years of fighting crime. “We’ve become laid-back country types,” she said. Stormy was returned to the force after being nursed back to health by the Pages. But in 2000, he was retired after being stabbed in the leg during a riot at Queen’s Park, so the Pages bought Stormy outright. Two other former mounted unit horses have since taken up permanent residence in the Pages’ barn, and they are boarding four more for friends. But they still hope to find room for some of the unit’s horses next summer. “When they get here, the shoes come off and we let their manes grow and for a short while, they are free to run and be what they are supposed to be: horses,” said Tony.

 ?? BILL SANDFORD FOR THE TORONTO STAR ?? Tony Page, a retired Toronto police officer, has a special bond with former police horse Dragoon. Tony and wife Patti board horses on their Meaford farm.
BILL SANDFORD FOR THE TORONTO STAR Tony Page, a retired Toronto police officer, has a special bond with former police horse Dragoon. Tony and wife Patti board horses on their Meaford farm.

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