Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
“Where are the cowgirls?” I’ve heard it asked, as if they’ve vanished from the valley. They’re right here, boys, but first you have to know where, and what to look for.
We were nestled in the cool shadows of the Elk Mountain Range, gearing up to brand a couple hundred black Angus calves as the parade of arriving horse trailers started. Big, cow-savvy horses clomped out, about half of them led by good-looking women under big, silver-belly felt hats.
Just like downtown, the women knowingly held back, letting the men work the edge off their bubbling testosterone as they roped and drug the first calves to the fires. The gals, quick of eye and long on ability, filled in on the ground jobs until, one-by-one, they took their turns in a dance of the Old West.
If the smell of burning hair and thoughts of castration bother you, maybe this sort of activity isn’t for you and cowgirls probably wouldn’t give you a second look, anyway. They get down in the dirt, they tackle runaways, flip calves over with the flick of a wrist on a taut rope, keep an eye out for incoming horses and calves, and make the place look a lot better than it might.
But let there be no mistake about it – you’d be damned proud to have any one of these ladies on your arm at any social event in town, because each and every one is the epitome of the good-looking enigma of the cowboy’s fondest dreams.
Niki Day, one of the owners of the herd, was in charge of one fire, putting the proper brand on each calf, making sure the males got neutered and the vaccinations given. Niki, a hands-on ranch woman, can be found at the ranch every day, working the cows, training horses and taking care of her two young daughters.
My daughter, Lauren Burtard, and I were doing the vaccinations (no, not antibiotics), jokingly calling ourselves, “Vagneur Veterinary.” She and I have been doing that focused job for years, and don’t worry about trading off to do some roping. Lauren’s chance to run the branding irons came yesterday, when we marked her Woody Creek herd.
Half of the management team at the Puma Paw Ranch is Lyndsay Smith, general all-around help at our fire and who held hind legs from kicking the hell out of people when a loose rope was required. Lyndsay loves this work, and over lunch was telling me how she has a degree in journalism from CSU. “Don’t screw it up, Vagneur,” she said with a big smile.
Suzie Wilson was great on the round-up and moving the cows later to spring pasture. She is, to give her the supreme compliment, a horseman, and a top hand. And she has a way with words. “We can do the work good as any man, but we add flair. We like our bada-bling and our tight jeans make our butts look good.”
Riding a palomino and moving calves away from the branding area was Bambi Burtard, until the opportunity looked right and then she moved in with a swirling rope that put most of the men wondering why their aim wasn’t nearly as good. Bambi raised two kids at the Yank Creek cow camp while keeping her eye on over a thousand head of cows.
Melanie Wilburn unerringly looped the calves’ front legs to the dead man and held their heads down while I slipped the vet needle under their skin. She wears a razor-sharp, sheathed knife on her back, just above her jeans, kinda like Crocodile Dundee’s, open and ready to go. Run your hand up her leg uninvited and be an unwilling witness to your own testicular amputation.
In true western fashion, Christine Day and her husband ran the chuck wagon and when we finally got there late in the afternoon, she might have been the most popular person around.
“Where are the cowgirls?” you say. I know a few.
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