Tony Vagneur: From riding horses to skis, getting back to where I’ve been all my life |

Tony Vagneur: From riding horses to skis, getting back to where I’ve been all my life

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Somebody mentioned it the other day, something like, “I’m finally back to being me,” or “back to where I am.” Or something like that, a ballpark quote on my part, but it got me to thinking.

That same day, a younger friend from the ’70s who has spent the last two or three years teaching scuba diving down around Honduras made the remark that he was finally back in Colorado, the place where he really feels at home. Just in time for the most recent snow — he capitalized his remark by modeling a pair of scuff-toed cowboy boots with intricate designs, boots he hadn’t worn in years.

I heard the excitement in both of their voices, and actually felt some of it for them. How often do we get such a chance, and to speak it out loud for everyone to hear?

Where would you go, if the picayune distractions of everyday life didn’t seem to be holding you down? It doesn’t have to be a physical journey — one can accomplish much with a relaxed mind.

Almost every day, I drive Woody Creek Road, and most of where I want to be is right there. I’d change a few things, maybe, but the way of life back when I was a kid keeps coming back, bringing memories that are precious but can never be lived again.

Stringing out a herd of cows, from our ranch down to the Woody Creek stockyards, just across the D&RG tracks from the old Woody Creek Store and Post Office. How small that world seems now, but how large it was not only for a kid, but for my ancestors, as well.

Running the cows down the alleyway, separating them by size, or sex, or age, and then pushing them up a ramp and into waiting railroad stock cars. The whistle of the train as it crossed the road at Gerbaz Hill gave us the alert she was on the way, and between the chuffing and clanging of its arrival and the bawling of the cattle, it created an excitement of a magnitude that seldom visited the sparsely populated canyon.

And the ride home, our horses walking fast on the dirt road, dogs trailing alongside, imagining the smell of a fresh roast and onions as we approached the house, Mom knowing we’d be hungry after leaving at daybreak.

There were the teen years, riding Collins Creek or the Lenado grazing permits on my own, chasing headstrong Herefords up steep trails and perfecting my linguistic skills with profanity, wondering where the demarcation was between being a kid and an adult. The realization of the osmosis-like transition was a disappointment.

There have been more recent days on East Sopris Creek, hunting down Black Angus cattle in blizzard conditions, or getting soaked in deluges of downpour. Better yet, possibly, swallowing the dust of a few that insisted on going the wrong way. Eating lunch in the shade of tall pines while sitting on a log that once stood tall, watching the horses graze.

Cow Camp on a fall day, a foot of new snow on the ground, with wood to be chopped, ice to be broken and water hauled, and breakfast or dinner needing to be fixed. Ah, yes, sounds rugged, but soul inspiring. The snuffle of the horses as you throw some hay out makes the day bright, sun or not.

Those big steam engines don’t come to Woody Creek anymore, and my dad and granddad aren’t there to teach me what I need to know, nor are those cows hanging out in Collins Creek or Kobey Park anymore, but the rest of it is still within my grasp. And it’ll be there next summer, drawing me back to pack cattle salt and keep an eye on things.

But first, there’s that other mind-bending question of where have I been? Sliding down the mountain on a pair of fast boards, going for 1950s speed records in Thunderbowl with Don Stapleton, straightlining huge bumps in Snowbowl before corduroy grooming, running gates behind Gretl’s (Bonnie’s) with Anderl, getting first tracks down Walsh’s on a huge powder day after we’d blown the hell out of it with bombs.

Oh, yeah, this fall I’ve already had three or four dreams of catching great air off well-positioned, powdered bumps on the steeps. Hopefully, there’ll be enough snow to hit Trainor’s this year with regularity, and a few hikes up the Bowl always keeps one in the game.

And that’s the tragedy, perhaps. Being from here, I have nowhere to go back to, no thrill of getting back to being me, for even further back than those days loading cattle at Woody Creek or riding the T-Bar on Little Nell, that’s where I’ve been all my life. And you can’t change that, not even if you wanted to.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at