A rare day on the range | AspenTimes.com
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A rare day on the range

Tony Vagneur

Anticipating a day in the saddle, sleep is difficult to find and finally, I leave the house before 6 and get ready to help a friend work his cows.Drifter, my horse, gives me fits catching him in the large pasture, something he’s never done before. He’s unaware (I think) of the fact that I always plan to get us where we’re going early, giving him the opportunity to warm to the saddle a while before I mount up. Just a little preride routine we do, most days. So, there’s room in our schedule for his shenanigans and I take his recalcitrance in stride, without getting upset.We’re the first to pull into the ranch headquarters, but it’s clear its day has started, as well. John’s out back, behind the house, catching up his horse, and as I brush and saddle Drifter, someone in a small pickup truck quietly drives by, pulling a big strawberry roan behind, holding onto the lead rope out the driver’s side window, saddle and pads visible in the bed. Another warm-up tactic, which I understand. The weatherman has forecast a record-breaking day for heat, but as a cool, intermittent breeze swirls around under the cloudy sky, I’m glad I wore my down vest under my duster. The big boss rides up on his regular dark bay, ponying a good-looking paint alongside. We smile and nod, as though talking would spoil the intrinsic beauty of the quiet morning and he continues down the lane, obviously attempting to work the early morning kinks out of the young paint. About then, another horse trailer pulls up next to mine and I greet a couple of old friends from last summer, same ranch, same herd of cows. However, they inform me they’ve taken on the management of a ranch in New Mexico, encompassing around 60,000 acres, a sum of acreage that can carry about as many cows as this smaller ranch in the Roaring Fork Valley. Well, maybe a few more. Personally, I think they’re crazy to leave, but if I was 10 years younger and had the opportunity – nah, no way.Other horses and riders show up, having parked down below at the main corrals, and our bunch is taking on a buzz – the talk of everyone greeting everyone else and the sounds of the horses milling around, full of nervous energy, with a sense that a good ride is taking shape. Almost unnoticed, the big boss is back and with a grin, slowly climbs on the paint and takes off down the lane again, seeing how he does with a rider this time. Before you know it, he’s back and hands the reins to his dad, telling him the horse ought to be OK. My friend John, on a quiet horse today, shows us a crooked finger he got the last time the paint bucked him off, and someone remarks that it was lucky it wasn’t his “social” finger. Levity is the root of cowboy humor, I reckon.Just then, the boss’s wife rides into the group, her presence giving the unspoken sign that it’s about time to head out. She’s a cowgirl of the first degree, a good-looking woman, who can ride a horse better than most and will have you believing she’s an aristocrat by birth, just in the way she carries herself. There’s a personal greeting for each of us and then, in a manner as ladylike as you’d find at the Caribou Club with tiny cucumber sandwiches, she puts a pinch between her cheek and gum and the day begins with purpose.We’re off, riding out a mile or so to a cow pasture, around the side of a big hill, bigger than you’d find most anywhere. Ahead, the Elk Mountains appear as though part of an apparition, sitting in an apparent semicircle around us, their snow-capped peaks making us glad for our jackets. It’s the kind of day some would pay a million bucks for, and we’ve had more than our share, including this one.Tony Vagneur wishes he could rope better. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to ajv@sopris.net.


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