01/08/2008 12:00AM

Schwizer, rider, dead at 71

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Exercise rider Al Schwizer, whose rugged demeanor and brute strength made him an endearing racetrack character in Southern California, died Monday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Monrovia, Calif., according to local police. He was 71.

Schwizer, a native of Amityville, N.Y., worked for trainer Bobby Frankel for nearly 30 years, starting in 1972, before going freelance. According to his wife, Marsha Schwizer, Schwizer was suffering from depression that worsened after two recent spills. In the past month, Schwizer reduced his workload and galloped horses only for his wife, a trainer with four horses stabled at Santa Anita.

Schwizer usually wore sleeveless shirts when he exercised horses, revealing a muscular build that belied his age. Frankel described him as "very competitive, with a lot of energy." Marsha Schwizer, married to Schwizer for 11 years, said her husband was "one tough S.O.B."

Funeral services will be made later this week.