Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

As the first taste of light began to give shape to the unknown night shadows, the move was on to get the day rolling. My old man slammed the frying pan onto the stove, and the smell of coffee made its way up the staircase to my room.

I tucked a snap-button green shirt into my Levi’s (always Levi’s – those Wranglers were for the rodeo boys who worked in town or on the construction crews), threw a bandanna around my neck and headed for the kitchen. Two eggs over, with three or four pancakes, a mug of steaming joe, and before we had much to say, I was pulling on my boots.

Boots don’t have to be fancy as long as they cover your calves and have a heel tall enough to keep your foot from slipping through the stirrup and a strong ridge above to keep your spurs from falling off. I loved strapping on those spurs, made of engraved blue steel with silver acorns inlaid along the sides; long-shanked, with 10 sharp points on each rowel and a chap guard just to put your mind at ease. (They’re sitting on top of my desk as I write this and remind me of the time I wore them in the Cheyenne Frontier Days parade when I was 17 and some older guy with whiskey breath and ill-practiced legerdemain tried to talk me out of them. “Hell no,” I’d said. “These belonged to my granddad.”)

If the kitchen is the heart of the house, the tack room surely must be the hub of the outfit. The first man in gets the benefit of its soothing grace, its quiet and unmoving parts. Like fixtures in a wax museum, each saddle sits on its rack, the creative and proud spirit of each man displayed, either in the way he ties his slicker on or by the quirt hung over the horn or a wild rag carelessly tucked into one of the saddle bags. Even when unoccupied, men and horses are evident in a tack room just by the hanging aroma; sweat-dried saddle pads, brushes, combs; empty snoose tins and a few dead beer cans or empty Bull Durham bags in the trash. Tack rooms are built and maintained by men but owned by horses, an inescapable fact of life made clear to those who linger there.

“Ride for the brand,” has been attributed to the cowboy life, and who could quibble, but it came a little late for my attitude about it all. “Live the life,” was my motto, and I don’t think I’ve missed much. Riding rank horses, spitting tobacco, walking to the pay window at the W/J Rodeo arena after a wild horse race, covered in dust and smiling ear to ear; slinging every cuss word you ever heard at some wily cow who thought she knew a better way to lead the herd; branding calves and pregnancy checking cows; and lying in the shade of a big cottonwood with a long-haired waitress from Pinocchio’s while a six-pack of Coors cooled in the ice-cold water trough. It hasn’t changed much over the years, only today’s long-haired gal doesn’t work at Pinocchio’s, and there’s soda in the trough instead of beer.

“Where’d you get the hat, cowboy?” someone asked. “Oh, man, I’ve gotten ’em everywhere,” I replied, “but it’s hard to find a quality hat anymore. People don’t seem to give it much thought.” Once, I bought a nice hat in Grand Junction, but they didn’t have time to shape it, so I took it to a hat shop in Las Vegas for finishing, and before long I told the inept clerk to just put it back in the box and forget about it. If you want a good Stetson with a personality that incorporates your own, one that’ll stick with you and won’t go to hell like a $3 suit in a rainstorm, go to Kemo Sabe on Cooper Avenue.

Where do cowboys come from? Hard to say. It’s all of the above plus a lot more. Most cowboys couldn’t tell you because they’re too busy beings cowboys. It comes from the heart, I reckon.

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