Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Events, taken by themselves, are rarely earth shattering, but sometimes the culmination of small, seemingly unrelated matters can conspire for resulting ugliness. Such was the case the other day.
I had an afternoon piano gig, so I attempted to get an early start on my livestock salt-packing expedition. I’d intended to use the new horse in the pasture, my daughter’s mare Babe, as the pack horse and was going to ride my big roan, Drifter. Except, I couldn’t catch Babe, seasonally “in season” and predictably difficult to catch, nor could I catch Drifter, who although a gelding, had taken on the personality of an over-protective stallion and ran after Babe’s every escape maneuver. Two hours later (embarrassing), I finally had Babe in one hand and strictly by default, my newest horse Billy, in the other.
Now I was running late, riding Billy instead of Drifter and the paradigm shifted without notice. With steady diligence, I loaded Babe with the salt blocks that would be spread out hither and yon along the cattle grazing area. It was Billy’s initial ride of the year, and he was a little skittish, his first time leading a pack horse part of the cause, I reckon.
The shortcut trail took an unexpected, precipitous dive down the mountainside; Billy tucked his haunches under himself, sliding and walking at the same time, his tail swishing around in a display of unhappiness over having Babe right on his butt in the steepness.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose. Billy dove to the left, Babe ducked to the right, and in the quickness of the impending wreck, I had a split second of fear before the adrenaline kicked in, telling me I’d better think fast. With the speed of light, the horses suddenly faced each other and then lunged forward, rock-hard blocks of salt aimed directly at my left leg. I narrowly managed to avoid that possibility when Billy, having thrown caution to the wind, decided the only way out was to go into a bucking horse demonstration.
By now, I’d figured out that the lead rope had gotten under Billy’s tail and he wasn’t taking to it in a good way. Usually, in such rare situations, I just let my horse have a buck or two, and the ensuing disagreement between the horses, one pulling forward and the other back, results in the rope being jerked out from under the tail, and everything returns to normal. Except that wasn’t happening, and “why the hell not?” I began to wonder.
Billy got in four or five good bucks (thank God he’s a smooth bronc, kind of fun actually) before I got him shut down, and then he decided to put it in reverse, trying to dislodge the agitation under his tail. Normally, we’d have been long free of the packhorse by now, but we weren’t, and I was pulling with reins, jabbing with spurs, and softly cussing, my left leg now totally imprisoned against Billy by the force of the lead rope that wouldn’t turn loose. I was fully cognizant of the cliff about 10 feet behind us, but Billy’s whirlwind state of mind hadn’t accounted for that yet.
I managed to yank Billy around to the right and give him a view of the 30-foot drop-off, which slowed him down a bit, and then Babe decided to quit pulling back. Things were at a momentary standstill, and I bailed off Billy to see what was keeping that damn rope, the possible instigator of our death knell, under his tail.
In a heartbeat, it was obvious. With Billy swishing his tail around and Babe right on his butt going down that steep trail, the slack lead rope had inexplicably and irrevocably tied itself in a clove hitch around Billy’s tail. Without the opportunity to get off and untie it, we might be there still, ducking and diving, twisting and turning, eventually testing the landing at the bottom of the cliff.
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