Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
Aspen CO, Colorado

At first glance, they’re a disparate pair, placed together by circumstances. I mean, how often do you see a golden retriever and a border collie hook up? One a working dog, aloof around people (in theory, at least), with inestimable energy, and the other an elegant, bouncing ball of sweet enthusiasm who loves sharing her life with people but who could be enticed down a side path by playful diversions. You’ll likely say that dogs are dogs, and why wouldn’t they get along, but for these two, not unlike their owners, it’s been a journey of a different kind, one that has been a dance between genuine frustration and pure pleasure.

We’re far into the woods on a jeep trail that hasn’t been traveled since last fall. Occasionally we have to stop and move fallen trees out of our way, and, in some places, leaning aspens overhang the road, and we swerve my Jeep to keep from hitting our heads. Eventually we’ve about talked ourselves dry, and what about the dogs, and then we park alongside a stand of lodgepole pine and turn the animals loose. Topper, the border collie, will come the moment he hears my whistle, so it is with only a bit of trepidation that we free them both, intent on seeing how Rosie, the golden, does, since she’s rarely been off her leash. And, naturally, without distractions from the civilized world, it all falls into a calm, predictable rhythm almost immediately.

It might not seem like much, but to a glamorous, light-blond lass like Rosie, who spent the first year of her life confined in a tiny house with a dog door leading to an even smaller back yard, this must somehow be akin to dying and going to heaven. My hiking partner has been an incredible companion to this dog, whom she adopted in February, nurturing her through some tough times brought on by a lack of puppy “socialization” that first year. As we hustle up this track in the middle of nowhere, my lady friend takes great delight in watching Rosie begin to unleash her previously unresolved personality.

Yours truly, being the “mountain man” (and the only one who knew where we were going), decided to take a shortcut, which soon turned into an unfortunate decision. Trying to cross a usually tame creek swollen past the rims of its banks with spring runoff was difficult, but by walking over fallen logs and bent and twisted willows, we humans managed to make the other side. Topper, who thoroughly appreciates every new opportunity for adventure, had gone back and forth across the stream three or four times before we realized Rosie, a dog bred to love the water, had never before seen a river like this in her short life, let alone a fast-rushing, near-freezing version of it. She would have been content to let all the water in the world go by before she allowed reckless abandon take her through its darkest depths.

Rosie and I took off, looking for an easier crossing, while Topper and the tall lady watched from the opposite bank, wondering where we might appear next. You know, once you get one foot wet, the other soon follows, and, before long, Rosie and I were slogging through willow-infested swampland adjacent to the mountain torrent, looking for a smooth-running stretch. Finally finding one, I gently but purposefully grabbed her by the nape of the neck, and we jumped in. She displayed a big, wet smile on the other side.

Certainly, we had to cross again to get back to the cultured lands of home, but that was almost painless, as we’d grown accustomed to being wet by then.

It’s hard to say how the dogs actually liked it, but as sure as there’s a tomorrow, we’ll go back, mostly because it’s impossible to have a bad time doing stuff like that.

Tony Vagneur couldn’t swim across the Salvation Ditch on a good day. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to