Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
Aspen CO, Colorado
“Whatever you do, don’t get on that horse,” was the admonition the first horse trainer gave me as he waved an overfed, fat finger in my face, thinking if he couldn’t ride the horse, no one could.
He was whining something about the horse bucking into the fence and scratching the leather on his new saddle, but I’d quit listening by then. Even though he couldn’t ride the damned horse, he wanted $550 for “breaking” him, a demand I found preposterous, but a look from my cousin Wayne conveyed the message to “let it go.”
It’s a long story, but the same cousin Wayne had given the colt to my daughter, Lauren, in a complicated kind of horse trade that can only happen with family ” and that only a good guy like Wayne could manage to initiate. The horse, Question Mark, was a tall, well-conformed, flashy-looking sorrel gelding with four white socks and a marking on his face that closely resembled a question mark, hence, his nickname.
The encounter with the first horse trainer set me back a bit, but by fall, I’d made a deal with another horseman to take the horse for the winter. With eager anticipation, I vowed to stay out of the way until spring. Arriving home one day in April, I spotted the horse galloping through the pasture, with a long lead rope trailing behind. It couldn’t be a good sign, I thought, and I went to the house, looking for any kind of explanation. There, tacked to the back door, was a note reading, “Whatever you do, don’t get on that horse.”
With an inauspicious beginning like that, and despite admonitions to the contrary, there wasn’t much left to do but get on the horse and get the job done. After checking him out with my buddy Jeff Burtard, the consensus was that yes, the horse was a little nasty, but you could pull him up and continue on your way.
Question Mark was a tall brute, and every day for two months, I’d stand on a short length of two-by-four, just to give me enough height to mount up in the round corral below my house. We’d head out the gate and ride for miles, without much trouble. Oh, he’d duck his head every once in a while or spook at something, but I’d pull him up before we got in a real whirlwind.
That is, until one fateful evening when the horse suddenly took on a new personality. Early on, he’d tried to lunge out from under me going down a steep hill and, when he landed, fell to the left, damned near taking out my knee. Finally, it was clear the horse had no concern for his own safety, let alone mine. There were several more explosions, all on the steep, and when I finally got him down to relatively flat ground, the real ride was on. We covered a hundred yards across a sage hillside, Question Mark bucking, rearing, spinning and doing whatever he could to unload me. I kept getting farther and farther behind, knowing that when I finally left the saddle, the landing was going to hurt like hell.
The horse should have been well broke by that time, but those actions made it clear he might never become trustworthy. Certainly not a good caballo for my daughter. Burtard concurred that there must be something unusually wrong with the horse, and we looked for a new direction to ride.
The horse was sold to an outfit that provided bucking stock for the Snowmass rodeo, and, for the next two summers, none of the bareback bronc riders managed to stay on Question Mark. Eventually, he was sold to another company that provided livestock to the larger Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos and, for a long time, we heard that no one was able to stay on him there, either.
I don’t know where he ended up, but I imagine it’s in a big pasture somewhere, with a note stuck to his retired backside that says, “Whatever you do, don’t get on this horse.”
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