Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The horses snuffled between themselves as we topped the steep rise, streaks of sweat glistening along massive shoulders and their ever-diligent ears snapped forward, alerting my partner to the ramshackle group of buildings in the distance.
My grandfather bought this place back in the days when ranching could still make a buck, and one of my earliest memories goes back to a picnic out the back door, a gathering hosted by the hired hand and his family who took up residence there before we abandoned the buildings.
My partner rolled up to the decrepit, barely discernible corrals at a gallop, flopping the reins over an imaginary rail as her horse slid to a stop, and without missing a beat, she quickly tiptoed up the outside stairs leading to the loft of the old farmstead, now visible through a large hole in the roof. A dresser with drawers intact and an opened suitcase, its contents strewn about, had caught her attention.
I stayed on my horse, which put me at about eye level with her as she maneuvered around the cramped space on her hands and knees, looking through the remnants of someone else’s life. It wasn’t our first ride together, and as she crawled over to talk about her findings, there was something about the way she let the top of her loosely buttoned shirt fall open that indicated we might be on a mission of long-awaited physical consummation. A tiny curl of delicate hair clung to the dampness of her neck, and I was transfixed.
As we lay in the afterglow, tall grass around us, her head easy upon my chest, the reckoning settled in. For a man who’s trifled away the better part of his life, it’s safe to say that women have come and gone, and the biggest risks lie in the relaxed conversation after sex.
“We could buy this place,” she says. “It’d take a lot of work, but we could fix it up, look out the windows and watch the horses and cows graze. It’d be so great, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, hell yes, it would,” I attempt, trying to sound enthusiastic but imagining myself in a relationship like that with this much younger woman. Geezus, if I was more her age, maybe, but I’ve tried that, too, and I don’t think my heart, or my head, could take it, not again.
In a way, it’s humorous when you begin to pick up after an interlude like that, the way it all returns to the beginning in a different fashion than how it all came apart. Horses that seemed content to munch on succulent grass and who barely received a thought suddenly become objects of intense worry. “Where are the horses? We shoulda tied ’em up.”
Tight jeans that got turned inside out on the way off are now difficult to straighten it seems, and tall cowboy boots, notoriously difficult to remove but somehow miraculously slipped off in the heat of passion, now require strength and determination to get back on.
We hug, we giggle, but the mood has changed and my mind inescapably wanders to horses of yesteryear, standing in the now-almost-invisible barn, waiting to be harnessed for their role in life’s pageant, pulling two abreast. Almost inseparable, do they feel secure strapped to a load they cannot see, courageously laying their hearts out for the world to witness, giving it their all? Is that what grounds them in an existence they’d never choose, gives solace to their very vitality?
Sometimes, when you know the answer it’s foolish to ask the question, but I stumble ahead anyway. “Wanna go riding tomorrow? Today was good.”
“Are you crazy?” she asks. “I gotta work.”
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