Tony Vagneur: Nice thing about whispering to horses is they don’t whisper back |

Tony Vagneur: Nice thing about whispering to horses is they don’t whisper back

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

In anticipation of the big winter storm we just had, I turned the heat on early, just in case, and it paid off. Tuesday, as predicted, the rain and snow appeared and the temperature plummeted. And I’m sitting in my snug warm log house with a 9-month-old border collie that needs some serious exercise.

We hadn’t taken the horses out Monday due to the heavy smoke filling the valley, a jaunt that usually calms Tux the dog down for a day or two, but given his stored energy, youth, combined with wet, cold and the need for exercise, we headed to the horse pasture. Where else? Just being around horses provides calm, healing and wonder. And walking the pasture is usually an adventure.

As we charged out the front door, that first breath of cold air, right around 30 degrees, was absolutely magnificent. It erased a long, hot summer in one amazing reality. I’d been couchbound for most of the month of August, recovering from some surgery, and could do nothing about the heat or smoke for weeks. I’d drift off and dream of launching off white pillows of fresh powder, then awaken and ache for once again riding my horses through the mountains.

I’d finally been cleared to ride my horses a week before, and that first breath of Tuesday’s cold air, combined with a couple of previous days riding, gave me a new lease on life.

Back in the day, when I was not yet 30, I’d sometimes take a six-pack of beer out into the horse pasture in the summer evening, lay down in the midst of four or five of my favorite horses, and listen to them chomp down on the green grass that surrounded us.

There are things we all find pleasurable in this world, things we want to repeat at every opportunity, but in my estimation, there’s not much that can compete with the pleasure a horse must get from eating. My God, what a wonderful sound up close, and so intense. Listening to them enjoy it is enjoyment itself.

If eavesdropping on horses is pleasurable, not only at eating, but just being horses in general, there are equines from my past that spent an inordinate amount of time listening to me. Oh, they probably weren’t actually listening, they might have wondered what the irritating noise was, but I was certainly talking to them. No subjects were off-limits and to this day, I can still remember conversations we had at certain areas in the mountains. Is that important? It is to me.

And it is important that the horse is always there for us, always willing to listen to our troubles, our good fortune, or our philosophies of life. Say what you want to a horse, but he won’t start pressuring you to take sides or further explain yourself and he just seems to understand. Traveling with a horse and good dog is an exercise in having a good day. That and a good traveling companion make life sweet.

Speaking of cold weather, conversations about horses can lead in different directions, as indicated by the following scenario a couple of winters ago. How the subject came up, I don’t remember, but it was about horses in general, and in some sort of exclamation about how I thought draft horses might be the most overlooked of all, now that we have machines, my riding partner on Ajax Express said, “Oh, no. I worked with those horses on the Kansas farm when I was a kid and I was damned glad to see the gas-fired tractors come along.” “I can’t believe you’re saying that,” was my reply, which led to a two-sided conversation about the use of animals in farming and ranching.

“We use horses every day in the summer,” I interjected, “not in haying or plowing, like we used to, but just trying to keep up with our herds of cattle.”

“Well, that may be different, might be fun” he said. “Everyone wants to be a cowboy,” I thought to myself. The guy was tougher than nails, riding in the brisk wind without gloves as he worked on his goggles, casually letting slip that he was 88 years old.

And then he got to the heart of the matter. “I was skiing with a good-looking young woman and until you came out of the singles line, we were going to ride up together.” “You think I scared her off,” I offered? “Well, it sure wasn’t my fault,” he said. “I was making good time with her, too,” he muttered with a shy smile.

Almost every good skiing story has a happy ending, and I hope his did. I went home and fed my horses, thankful to have a boot in both worlds.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at