In the hearts of horses and cowboys
September 14, 2006
If you missed the film version of Anita Witt’s book, “I Remember One Horse … The Last of the Cowboys in the Roaring Fork Valley,” shown at Carbondale’s Crystal Theater last Sunday, you missed a particularly excellent documentary about ranching life in the valley and some of the people that have made it so unique.The first featured “performer” was my cousin, Wayne Vagneur, but it did get better from there. Oh, just kidding, for God’s sake. Wayne is of my father’s generation and still looks about as young as when he used to place me in front of him in the saddle and ride us by the crowd out at the old Aspen Meadows rodeo arena. I’ve loved that guy ever since!I, too, can remember one horse, a big, magical bay called “Willie,” who was head and shoulders above the rest, but as soon as I mention him, the ghosts of the others wash over me and I know that there can’t be one any better than the rest, only different. Willie’s registered name was Tudor’s Prince, but being monikered “Willie” by the late Louie Burtard gave his name a certain intrigue that legal designations can’t deliver.Flash back to – crystal clear mountain nights, the stars shining so brightly they make you squint, and the tiny flecks of light emanating from them creating a twinkle – Stardust, my first horse. How could any equine top him, the patient steed who got my fledgling cowboy life off to a start?There were Spades, Thunderbird and Kazanna, who got me through high school and then the memorable Kiowa, who forever will hold a special place in my heart. And, of course, Donald, the “powerhouse of quick,” who still carries me around a bit when he and I feel like reminiscing.Horses are often talked about in terms of the kind of heart they have – measurable or boundless. When you see strong guys like Bill Fender and Walt Wieben quickly choke back a tear when mentioning their favorite mounts, you can bet they’re thinking about horses with big, unbounded mettle that can carry you all day and get the work done. That’s the ultimate compliment about a horse – “He had a really big heart,” or, “More heart than horse.”I’d be really foolish if I didn’t tip my hat to the Nieslanik brothers (more of them than Vagneurs), who gave a humorous commentary on agricultural life in these parts and who have a keen insight into the differing views toward cattle drives around Carbondale.Didn’t see many women, but, of course, it has to be said that men generally like to do the talking, while the women do their fair share of the thinking.If we are to absorb anything from a great documentary like this and apply it to our own lives, it might be that like the surviving ranchers who try their best to be stewards of the land and the skies above, who cherish their families and are true to their spirituality, we should in turn be respectful of the life of agriculture, which offers so much for us to enjoy. Particularly, the wide-open vistas; the colorful cowboy sayings; the beat-up old pickup trucks; friendly people who still cherish a man’s handshake as representative of his word; Stetson’s that could have originated in the last millennium, thoroughly stomped on but proudly worn; and the smell of money when we pass by the corrals, especially in the spring.Just remember boys, and it’s no secret – when they start writing books about you and crank the movie cameras, your time in the sun is about done. A tragedy, at best.Oh, yeah, don’t forget the horses.Thanks to producer-director Chip Comins for getting my backside in a couple of branding scenes at the McCabe Ranch. Read my stuff here every Saturday and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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