Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
As I swung my leg over my big blue roan Drifter and screwed my ass down tight, strangers eyed me for the wild ride that never came. Their big boss, lined up in the middle of his mounted crew, pulled his unshaven cheeks in, sucking tobacco juice together over his tongue, getting ready to launch an ugly one. And out it came with a thwacking squirt of expelled air, a long, glorious, globulus gob of saliva and chew, thoroughly mixed and utilized, headed for a big rock about 5 yards distant.
Most guys spit without caring where it lands, but this fella wanted to put particular emphasis on his share of the conversation, so with a deadpan face he watched it fly, tiny eyes glued to its trajectory, lips still pursed from the effects of the effort, until it splattered against its obvious target. Quick as a flea, he turned those pig eyes on me, just to make sure I’d witnessed his skill with spit, and then asked the question he’d wanted to say all along. “That the Hancock horse you paid big bucks for? Them dirty bastards is mean sons-a-bitches.”
Mr. Tobacco and his bunch had shown up uninvited, looking like marauders out of the Old West with their broad, cape-shouldered Aussie slickers in full display, thinking we might have corralled some wild cows they’d lost from another valley and wanted to make sure they got their beef back. The unsaid accusation floated the air like scum on a pond.
We weren’t on a ranch you could drive to, even though it had most of a road in place – you either rode your horse in, or walked, and when somebody talked badly about your horse, or cows, it could piss you off. I was thinking a sucker punch to his swollen gut might even the score.
We’d overnighted 200 pair of cows and calves in the middle of almost 400 acres and a day’s work of separating them out for market lay ahead of us. The rain was intermittent as we began the gather, and there was something about the cold that spelled snow.
There’s an old cowboy saying that goes something like, “Don’t try to impress everybody with how good you are, because over the course of the day, folks’ll figure it out.” It saves people from getting on your butt not if, but when you make a fool out of yourself.
Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw, I reckon, and the tobacco-stained horse expert and I ended up side by side on a hummock overlooking the corrals, agreeing that none of his wild cows had come our way. While we were stopped, he couldn’t resist laying a long line of self-righteous BS on our ramrod and without waiting, his crew busted on down the trail, tired of the empty chase and looking for some relief.
In my mind, at least as near as I could write it, I had him pegged for a moron, mostly because he couldn’t let go of that “tough-guy” image he was trying to project. “You better hurry on down there and catch your boys,” I finally said. With that and a nasty expletive, he turned and laid the spurs to his big sorrel gelding, with unwanted results.
The horse, already distressed at being left behind, deserted the ground in a big high-dive, maybe throwing in a little “sunfish” just for flair. Mr. Big, unseated at the beginning, finally left the saddle just before the horse touched down. Nothing but legs and slicker flying through the air did I see.
He landed with a nauseating thud and the sounds he made trying to catch his breath weren’t pretty. His eyes pleaded with me for a little help as he looked around to see who else was watching. I caught his spooked horse and helped him up and he rode off, still occasionally sucking pathetically for air. He never said a word – not “Thanks” or even “Go to hell.”
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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