Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
They’re big and tough, brutal even sometimes, but oh, so fragile. Poets and writers the globe over have woven the most descriptive of man’s language into wondrous tapestries of tribute to these equine beasts. And in reply, the horse, with just one look exudes sheer brilliance and makes you wish you could always have and hold that kind of inner peace and confidence.
Large animals like that are susceptible to a plethora of maladies that can quickly bring about their demise, many of them having to do with their legs and hooves. I mean, without the ability to respond with lightning quickness, the horse’s defense against danger is seriously compromised.
It was last week then, with no little amount of trepidation, I noticed a large German shepherd frolicking in my horse pasture. He had obviously escaped the neighbor’s yard, and suddenly found himself capable of investigating the horses he could previously only eyeball the past two winters. Had I any mobility in my bones, I’d a been out there in a heart beat to corral the intruder and put him back in his kingdom, but being the injured, housebound boy I am, my only recourse was to watch.
Unattended dogs, never far from their ancient DNA but coupled with centuries of domestic numbing of their kill instinct, sometimes have a unique ability to rip the hide covering horses’ legs into fine ribbons of skin, dripping with blood and concealing ripped tendons and veins. That was my worst nightmare.
But, for the moment, the horses were fending for themselves quite admirably. The dog first went after the old, arthritic gelding, Donald, but didn’t get far. Donald took a swing at him with a foreleg, discouraging that intrusion, and went about eating his breakfast.
It’s interesting to note here that Donald, a sorrel, and Billy, a black-and-white paint and the youngest of three, are most times enemies. After years of being kicked around by Donald, Billy now has the upper hand and does whatever he can to make Donald’s life miserable. But, blood is blood, we all know, and Billy soon came to Donald’s aid.
As the dog’s interest in the horses became more menacing, Billy went on the lope, chasing the dog down every time he approached, with Donald covering the periphery, making his own threatening moves toward the mutt. Billy got in a good whack a time or two, but as I watched, the outcome was becoming more and more clear. The dog, motivated by his individual vision, became increasingly aggressive, and the more the horses tried to chase him away, the less effective their defenses became.
Fully cognizant that the recoil from a shotgun, or the bounce from tripping in the horse pasture might further injure my fragile neck, there was nothing I could do, frozen there like Jimmy Stewart in the Hitchcock thriller, “Rear Window.” I’d had the foresight to call the Eagle County sheriff, and just about the time it really started coming apart, the deputy showed up. My cousins, Billie and Taylor, soon arrived to fix the neighbor’s fence and life was good.
In a logistical move arranged before the dog attack, my son-in-law came the next morning to take my horses away, up to the ranch we ride for in the summer. Watching out the window, my mortality coldly confronted me as I witnessed Ty and my daughter load up the horses. “This is what it’s like when you die,” I reckoned. They move your stuff around to better make it work for the survivors and a lifetime of doing things goes up like smoke. The only difference, not many get to watch from the office window. Strangely, I felt unfaithful.
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