Just as in the world of humans, there are unsung animal heroes, creatures who go beyond the call when asked and who forever remain in our hearts. You wouldn’t think a horse named Donald would represent icon status in his world, and maybe he doesn’t, but he sure does in mine.Born in 1983 out in Woody Creek to a mare owned by Wayne and Lois Vagneur, Donald had a twin, a little filly. And between the two of them, they reminded Lois of a couple of baby ducks following their mother around, so the nicknames Donald and Daisy were quick to roll off the tongue. Twins are unusual in horses, and it wasn’t guaranteed for a day or two if either would survive, but they did, and they came to live at our place the next fall. Donald has attitude. Buttons Sassy is his registered name, and the “sassy” part rings true. The easiest way to catch him after his second year was with a lariat, if you were good enough. He’d drop his head, spin and watch the empty loop go by, then try the fence while waiting for your next attempt. We went through three horse trainers, all of whom said the horse was dangerous and unbreakable, before Jeff Burtard finally got a handle on him. But even that took all summer. Jeff said the horse tore up a lot of equipment in the process.If you were looking for attributes in a breeding program, Donald wouldn’t be your ideal horse – too small in stature, withers a little sunken, quicker than most people can handle, aloof in attitude – but a genius when it comes to cow sense. He knows, almost before the cow, which way she’s gonna turn and is ready when she makes her move. Panicked calves, not knowing which way to go, can bedevil the best of cow horses, but Donald takes them in stride, making sure they travel in the proper direction, never letting them get ahead of him in the game.People not in the know used to give us looks, but I’ve always been proud to ride Donald. We’ve moved a lot of cows, ridden in more than a few parades, and even though I’ve tried to change his name more than once, have come to the realization that it’s impossible. Last summer, he partially lacerated a tendon heading off a runaway calf and is taking a long time to heal. He’s no longer young and this winter has been hard on him. I feed him his grain away from the rest of the herd, as they like to push him around, and as he shoulders his way through the corral gate, eager to eat, the beginning of arthritis is evident along with the almost indiscernibly gimpy leg. After he’s finished, he walks directly up to me, puts his head into my chest and likes his ears rubbed. But, make no mistake about it – climb on him tomorrow without the proper respect and he’ll have you on the ground in a heartbeat. In the back of my mind, I begin to wonder how the final curtain will fall for Donald – gentle and peaceful, not ugly, or will it be as it often is, a day late, in some inaccessible spot, painful, without aid or comfort. Come spring, I’m going to exercise him gently, gradually building him up, getting him past the torn tendon, put him on some arthritis medicine and make his coat shine like a million dollars. If we’ve done a good job, Donald will have another summer of doing what he does better than most – moving cows. If it’s dicey on the bovines, maybe we’ll saddle up and ride in the Fourth of July Parade, giving him another chance to strut his stuff and show the town what a good-looking, unsung hero looks like. Tony Vagneur has already started tuning his horses up for summer. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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