Tony Vagneur: Taking it Easy
He’s shiny and slick as the early morning sunlight bounces off his back, his red roan hide making a silvery, rainbow reflection, the kind of horse you’d pick out of a herd to ride. His quick eye caught my appearance but he didn’t startle or get nervous. He just picked his head up halfway from the deep grass, ears cocked forward, and continued to slowly chew, keeping one eye on me.
We used to name our horses, when we ran about 80 head of them. Some came with good old West names like Outlaw, Beaver, Lonesome and Skeeter, good horses all. After about 30 names, it got tougher. Gargantua suited a well-proportioned, large horse that looked to be a walking fool but plodded along slower than the Pleistocene. Stripe, for a mare with white strips along her jawbones — you get the idea.
My first horse after college, the one I got on my own and not through the family ranch, was called Easy Money, after the first rodeo bareback bronc I won money on. My blue roan, the one called Drifter, was monikered Easy Money Driftwood in official quarter horse papers.
Last summer, I was riding a new horse, the roan mentioned in the opening paragraph; he was walking out, fast and smooth, curious ears enthusiastically scanning the terrain after I’d just made the deal to put him in my string.
“You need to start thinking about a name for him,” my daughter suggested. He didn’t come with papers, although that was probably more from a bookkeeping snafu rather than lack of breeding, so I had no starting place for a name.
His right ear, just the very end of it, so small as to be almost unnoticeable, looked to have been frostbitten and the obvious came to me — Tip. But that’s a dog’s name, and after a couple of days, there was no more brilliant thought on the matter. Considering he was well broke, well-mannered, and well, after a somewhat established line of them, at least with me, he came to be called Easy. My son-in-law, Ty, who found the horse for me said, “Don’t do it. He may fool you.”
Animals can’t talk, but they tell us a lot. Dogs almost verbally communicate through a curious cock of the head, a tail between the legs, or a smile of pure happiness. A “hang dog” expression was born of reality, not the pen. It’s not so easy with horses.
We knew Easy came from Montana, and he silently speaks to me. The tip of that ear, the frostbitten one, tells me he spent winters on the freezing plains of eastern Montana with not much else than his mother and instinct to pull him through that first tough winter.
He didn’t grow up in a world with water coursing down every draw and green grass so rich and plentiful it’s a given. He learned that water is where you find it, and when you do find it, you damned well better drink it. That first summer, we slurped water out of every stream crossing, near or far it didn’t matter, and sometimes clear mud puddles looked good to Easy.
Every kid, and most adults, learn that when giving a treat to a horse, it’s wise to lay your hand out flat and let the horse’s big lips gently flap it into its mouth. Going back to that green grass shortage mentioned above, Easy doesn’t take treats or biscuits like other horses. He figures he only gets one chance and comes at it with his teeth — he doesn’t miss.
If you leave your hand there, he doesn’t know it from the biscuit. I learned the hard way and just so you know, he’s not the kind to obnoxiously bug you for treats — he understands from smell if one is coming his way and is content if one isn’t. I use biscuits to catch my horses — it’s usually foolproof and it sure cuts down on the cussin’.
Whoever broke him did so without a lot of ground work, but they knew what they were doing. I’ve got a hunch they probably left him out until he was four, trained and rode him that summer and fall and left him sit until spring, when he headed my way.
By the time I got him, he knew the basics but hadn’t been ridden in the mountains or chased cows, wasn’t too keen on being brushed and due to the soft Montana soil, had never been shod. But he’s past all that now, a year later.
We’re happy riding the range, Easy n’ me, packing salt, moving cows and enjoying the blue Colorado skies.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.