Tony Vagneur: 50 years can go by like the blink of 8-second bull ride

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

We’re sitting around the table at Smoke! in El Jebel, talking family and skiing and whatever the hell else came across the radar, especially how our family has evolved over the years. My young cousin, Kenowa Vigil, a running back for Evergreen High School, let it slip that maybe he’d like to be a bull rider.

Oh, now that’s some serious stuff and we talked about that a bit, but I didn’t tell him much about my experiences with the bulls. It’s really very simple, if you think about it. Climb over the top of the chute, drop your bull rope down; somebody on the other side hooks it with a wire and pulls it through. OK, cowboy, climb down on the back of the beast and hope it goes smoothly.

Sitting on the back of a bull in the chute, your legs on either side between the bull and the chute walls, it can get a bit brutal as 2,000 pounds of future bologna moves from side to side or back and forth, doing it only for one reason — trying to scratch you off. Your knees find new ways to bend that you hadn’t thought of and there isn’t a bull rider alive who doesn’t have “skunned” up knees, even through the Wranglers and leather chaps.

If you’re lucky, you draw one that’s a real pro in the chute, one that doesn’t try to tear your knees off and who stands still without trying to head-butt you before you get your riding hand cinched in and you give the gate man the big nod. When the chutegate opens, the surge of power coming from the beast beneath you is almost beyond comprehension and there’s not a lot to think about — if you don’t have enough experience and miss a reflex, you’re gonna be eating arena dirt.

All that and it’s only eight seconds. That’s all — eight seconds out of your life if you actually ride the damned thing, maybe the longest eight seconds of your life. Eight seconds and a good ride will get you to the pay window. That’s just how it is.

And then Kenowa’s dad, Kelly, chimed in. “Remember how it was growing up in Aspen when we were kids?”

We just got a ski pass every year. No one thought much about it — it was kinda like getting a winter coat — if you lived here, you got a pass. We didn’t ski every day, though, only because we had to go to school sometimes. That’s just how it was.

Kelly and I go back to Timothy C. Stapleton, my maternal great-grandfather, his great-great, who homesteaded the airport ranch in 1880. Timothy’s picture hangs in Bonnie’s on Aspen Mountain. Sometimes it takes some sorting out of questions between generations.

By the way, Kelly and his two kids, Kenowa and daughter Takara, were the first I’ve known who showed up with an Ikon Pass. They were really stoked about it and after their recent three-day weekend, said they’re coming back to finish off their five days in Aspen. We’ll be here waiting for them.

Takara goes to college now, and the question always is: “What are you gonna do when you get out?” Like a lot of over-achievers I went to school with, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I got out. The ink wasn’t dry on my last final before I was back in Aspen, skiing damned near every day. That’s just how it was.

Fifty years later, I’m still here, trying to ski damned near every day, excepting the board meetings, newspaper deadlines, speaking engagements and a little babysitting here and there. My main job right now is doing my best to be a good grandfather.

And there you have it, the circle of life. We visit with and watch our own extended families grow and prosper and we look at our immediate families and wonder what our ancestors might think if they could only see us now? How the hell did we get this far, so fast, and did we recognize the subtle changes along the way? The bottom line is that it all was important, most of it was enjoyable, and then one day we looked around and realized we are on the short end of the rope.

And it seems like it didn’t take more than eight seconds to get here. So, remember that, if you’re young, it’s only eight seconds, that’s all you get. The longest ride of your life, so far. That’s just how it is.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


Foodstuff: What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?

It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.

See more