Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
June 12, 2010
The arena has been gone for years and there’s not a smidgen of rotten bleacher left nor any stray strands of horsetail stuck on a bent nail to remind us of the raucous days of the W/J Rodeo.
Two or three thousand people used to show up every year for the annual event and folks forever went on about how, “The whole town shows up,” and they were at least half right. The Aspen Lions Club sponsored the two-day extravaganza, putting on a big community barbecue, as well. Incredible hands-on backup for the actual production was provided by the Aspen Roping Club, and more than once the participating cowboys and cowgirls voted the W/J, “Best Rodeo in Colorado.”
The first year was an inauspicious beginning, a shot in the dark it seemed, but the seed (or should I say germ) had been planted. From our ranch in Woody Creek, my buddy Jim Bixler and I would ride our horses over there two or three evenings a week, bucking out Wink Jaffee’s prized steers and bulls until dark. Soon, Jaffee admired the enthusiasm of our shenanigans and posed the question, “If I held a rodeo here, would you guys ride in it?” We thought it was about us, so large were our egos.
Every year, the grandstands were expanded, the parking became tighter, and the crowd got more frenzied with every squeak of the bucking chute gates. Cowboys came from miles around to test their skills on the broncs and bulls, well-known team ropers seemed to appear from everywhere, and sharp cowgirls laid the iron to amazingly fast barrel horses, flying to whoops and hollers from the creaking bleachers. Alcohol flowed and undoubtedly chemicals too, and if you weren’t smiling about something, you were definitely in the wrong place.
Some animals stood out and we felt like we knew them, such as the home-grown bull, Snuffy, and a later one by the same name; both nasty, with wide, hooking horns who’d rather hurt a cowboy than holler at a heifer in heat. Maybe you remember Chipmunk, the stout, black bull who broke his back fighting the bucking chute. Towed out of the arena with a tractor, we all got a reminder of the inherent dangers as a rifle shot echoed from somewhere behind the parked cars.
I made my first rodeo money there, on a reliable bareback horse named Wishy, the perfect horse for a beginner. “How come you named him Wishy?” I asked. “You know, wish he’d buck harder so a guy could win instead of place.”
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The rodeo contractor was 7-11 Rodeo Company, and for reasons you will soon see, I took up with the owner, Pat Mantle of Sombrero Ranch fame in Northern Colorado. Pat worked his butt off, making sure it all ran as smoothly as possible. He was the main pickup man for the bucking events, ran the bulls out of the arena after they’d performed, helped cowboys get their rigs on recalcitrant horses, and did whatever else was needed to keep it moving. Pat wasn’t afraid to take a drink after a day of eating dust and barking out orders, and that’s where our friendship began. “Come on,” I said, “I know every waterin’ hole in town,” and off we headed.
We started at Pinocchio’s with a pitcher of cold beer where a good-looking gal in a blue, pleated skirt started coming on to Pat. She was a too-young romantic, in over her head, and about the time she’d let the skirt climb to half-thigh, showing off some creamy white panties, Pat flashed her a lascivious grin, saying, “Honey, I’m gonna have some fun snortin’ in those flanks.” She left, but it was early.
Irreverence, dust, tight jeans, good-looking cowgirls and cowboys, snot-slingin’ bucking stock, sex, booze and bullshit, great rodeo, whispered tantalizations, fine performance horses, incredible apres-rodeo, and God knows what else, it all came together with the W/J Rodeo (1964 -1985).
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