Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
August 26, 2011
It was a genuine, old-time barn, built out of hand-hewn logs with a hay mow on the top and feed bunks lining one wall of the ground floor, an oat box conspicuous in the corner of each stall. Thick, wide, mountain-grown pine floorboards had been rubbed smooth by years of clomping horse’s hooves.
When we used large barns for tacking up horses, not for keeping them inside all night, it was a display of nature’s finest choreography every morning. The first person into the breaking dawn would throw hay down into each cubicle, enough for breakfast, measure out oats for each cayuse and then quickly open the barn door to the waiting herd.
In the horses would clamber, like kids into a movie house, snorting, snuffling, dancing excitedly on wood and proudly lining up in “their” stall. If one got in the wrong space, someone would holler the horse’s name and without further instruction, the horse would get in the proper spot. Those days are very rare in this part of the country, anymore.
At the end of the alleyway stood the tack room, its walls lined high with team harness for the large horses that once pulled the feed sleds and maybe a hay rake or two. Lower down jutted out the saddle racks, structured of local pine, and a person could almost guess which saddle belonged to which member of the family.
On this day, a shiny, new saddle was slung proudly over the rack nearest the tack room door, its newness in stark contrast to the well-worn leather of the other occupants silently standing vigil there. It was a Fallis Balanced Ride, with a black, padded seat, the rest displaying lightly tooled brown leather with the name “Bill” engraved on the roll of the cantle.
I gave him a little grief, the “Old Man,” as I sometimes called him, the guy who told me on our first meeting that most people in the neighborhood thought he was a son-of-a-bitch and he’d appreciate it if I didn’t try to dispel what he considered an advantageous reputation. Not that he’d given me any reason to.
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My spiel went something like, “A new rig like that is gonna bust your ass, big boy,” to which he replied, “Someday sonny, if you don’t wise-off too much, you’ll be as old as me and you’ll see the advantage of spending a little money for comfort.” He went on to say that riding horseback all day didn’t really hurt his bones until he turned sixty, like that was some kind of milestone.
That character Bill, a genuine article of the West, had twenty-some years on me and I pretended not to hear, but I’ve never been able to get that statement out of my mind either, not for the past twenty-some years or so.
It wasn’t long after, sneaking up on my fiftieth birthday, that my hips began to hurt like hell after a couple of hours in the saddle, and I complained to my cousin Wayne, ranching icon of the Woody Creek Canyon, who gently explained that riding a Fallis saddle had been a family tradition for the last forty years and how did I miss that nuance of life. “Geezus, I’m still riding a good saddle I bought during my high school days,” was my well-reasoned reply.
Wayne loaned me an old, beat-up Fallis he had stashed in the barn and I began to feel reborn. I rode that saddle hard, never felt the pain again, and late in the summer, ordered my own Fallis rig. I can say now, with certainty, that I feel more at ease sitting my saddle all day than anywhere else.
I passed Bill’s elucidated pain threshold of “60” without missing a beat, and if pressed, would have to confess that I now own two custom-made Fallis saddles, one of them engraved with Colorado columbines and my cattle brand.
It’s not a small thing, a cowboy’s saddle, and it’s as personal and important to your comfort as the shoes you wear or the women you hang out with.
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