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Tony Vagneur: The lonely road of our dreams

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Why I decided to walk instead of riding and leading the horses, I’m not sure, but maybe it was because I wanted to carry a heavy pack for the benefit of my legs. Looking ahead, there was only the well-worn trail, leading to the cabin, a spot I hadn’t visited in many years. Where had I been and why, was my question.

No horses standing in the corral or small pasture, as expected, and my heart sank a bit. We always turned the horses loose on the ridge about 3 miles distant and they invariably ran down to the cabin because that was home to them in this high country. Oh well, maybe they’ll show up later, or maybe that time-tried ritual no longer worked.

What had I missed these past few years by not keeping up with the times? Those who generally had my back had died or otherwise moved on and it was fairly clear I was on my own. Why had I expected help when it was reasonably clear it was no longer there. I left some grain out.



Late that night, the horses arrived, by instinct I reckon, or maybe I had forgotten that I had turned them loose, but never having been there before, it might have taken them longer to find the place than expected.

Early the next morning, I saddled my new horse, Easy, so grateful to have a mount and headed down the trail to the neighbor’s cabin, a mile distant or so. My intention was to reestablish my credibility as the neighbor in charge, a younger generation of the family he had known for years. Instead, the neighbor was new to the area, having bought it the year before, and after a few distrustful remarks to each other, we found that we most likely could become good friends. We gave each other the “fist bump” in farewell, due to COVID-19; he disappeared into his abode and as my foot landed in my stirrup, a chill went up my spine and I was stopped in time.




It was a whinny, a nicker, recognizable to me in an instant. My good horse, Willie, a big bay, giving horse that meant so much to me, was calling. It flashed through my mind that my family had retired Willie to the mountain during my absence, turned him out into the wild to fend for himself, knowing he likely wouldn’t be there come spring.

He was out of my sight, on the other side of a thick stand of aspens, about a quarter-mile away, with an out-of-sight barbed-wire fence separating us. Should I ride down and welcome him into my present world, or should I not interfere and let him continue to live as he had been? Maybe he was happier where he was? Was it my place to interfere? He sounded so lonely, but not insistent, maybe he didn’t know it was me, but there was no mistake, he knew.

By now, you likely have ascertained that I am describing a dream, a very poignant dream from a few nights ago. In reality, we had to put Willie down about 20 years ago, the victim of a broken leg. He suffered through the night until we finally got to him, a regret still strong in my heart.

The more I think about it, however, maybe it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it was a reaching out from the other side, coming from a majestic animal I loved so much. He knew how to get my attention, how to call me to his side.

Perhaps he was trying to tell me something about the importance of old friends, the increasing significance they hold in our lives as we get older and that they never abandon us, no matter the circumstances.

As the shadows in our lives lengthen, the plea of our mothers at the close of day, “Come home, come home, it’s supper time,” begins to take on deeper meaning, in a religious sense. Coming from Willie, that plea might have more meaning than if it came from anywhere else, and I mean that with all due respect.

But he’s not calling me home, not calling me to the other side, not yet. He’s telling me that when the time comes, he’ll be waiting, and when I do get there, we’ll once again chase cows against a golden-red sky and gallop across the lush openness found in the midst of uncrowded forests.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.