Tony Vagneur: Billy the paint was all about horseplay
About 2016, a new horse came into my life, a big, red roan with a very pleasant nature. Don’t get me wrong – if you over-reacted and jabbed him with your spurs to get him to be a little faster cutting off a cow, he could duck his head and make you wish you hadn’t done that, but sometimes in the heat of battle, we forget.
It’s always tough trying to name a new horse, and I’m really not very good at horse names: this one had just the very tip of one ear that looked to have been frostbitten, a very slight blemish, and I started calling him Tip, but come on, dogs answer to Tip. (I have a pack horse named Django, after someone’s dog, but in the end, the pack horse became Link, much more palatable and in honor of his former owner.)
For lack of a better moniker, the red roan became known as Easy, and everyone seems more comfortable with it than I am. People ask, “How’s Easy?” and I have to think a second or two before realizing who they’re asking about.
Easy was the new one, but a predecessor to him was Billy, a beautiful black and white paint. Billy had taken a lot of work to get steady and reliable, and it was a real pleasure riding and working cows with him. He was one of the quickest horses I’ve ever been around, and he was still young. He still had a few quirks, but tolerable.
So, I was trading off Easy and Billy, riding one, using the other for a pack horse on the odd days when I wasn’t using Link. It’s tough trying to keep three horses in shape, used to be worse when I was doing that with four, always leading one or two behind me wherever I went.
As the summer progressed, I began to notice a strange, developing phenomenon. Whenever I was riding Easy and leading Billy¸ as we got packed up and ready to leave the base, as soon as my butt hit the saddle, Easy would take a large leap forward. As I said, he was very gentle and it seemed odd that he would start spooking at me routinely mounting up. A hunch began to form in my mind after the third time or so.
Next time we were ready to head out, I kept my eye on Billy as I mounted up, and sure enough, he was biting Easy on the ass just as I was settling in to the saddle. It’s hard to say what the reason was, and I’m sure anything I could say would be anthropomorphic, but the situation was curious. Maybe Billy was displaying his displeasure at being relegated to the pack horse designation for the day or maybe he was trying to get Easy in a little trouble, Easy being the new guy. Or maybe he just thought it was funny. It might have been aimed at me.
Billy was a joker at heart, I believe; he didn’t mind giving you a nudge if you were standing on the edge of a creek; he and Topper, my last dog, would play together in the pasture, taking turns chasing each other.
One thing is for certain – Billy never missed an opportunity go into bucking mode if he thought it was the thing to do. Generally, it took something like a calf going under his belly, or just brushing up against his leg. Cows didn’t bother him, but those calves got to him.
One day I was feeding the alleyway in the corrals with Billy, and in a pause in the action, was just sitting there, waiting to move up the next bunch of cows. Peaceful and quiet, half asleep, and suddenly Billy went into a bucking tirade. Normally, he’d quit rather quickly, but not that day. It must have been a calf that spooked him. Or maybe a friendly bird.
The big boss, Brad, looked around to see why I wasn’t pushing cows up the alleyway. “It wasn’t hard to figure,” he said. “Your head would come up over the corrals and chute and into view, and then it would just as quickly disappear down out of sight.” Over and over again. Glad to provide some entertainment.
They say every man remembers one good horse — I have been blessed with several. There are/were others, but today I miss Billy.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I find myself feeling overly tired these days, which I don’t think it’s simply a consequence of nearing the beginning of my seventh decade of existence on this planet.