Vagneur: A horse-tangled mess |

Vagneur: A horse-tangled mess

This is a story I never thought would see the light of day, considering the bad luck it might bring and the fact that I know a couple of families who have mourned the deadly result of similar accidents. However, a comparable column by New Mexico writer-photographer Julie Baker Carter has somehow given me sanction to forge ahead.

My big horse, Willie, and I were trying to push around 80 head of cattle up the left side of the Dry Woody Creek drainage about a half-mile above cow camp, a job normally requiring two or three cowpunchers, but with a horse like Willie, it sometimes seemed we had an unfair advantage.

At a wide spot in the trail, a portion of the cows dropped down an open hillside into a little hollow, ran through the muddy creek bed and then clambered through another small slough before ducking into some large pines, their gnarled roots holding the soil together just enough.

Willie was charging back and forth through the creek and the swamp, trying to beat the cows before we lost them, and giving it every bit of heart he had. He’d slam through the creek bottom, turn the cows just inside the pine timber at the edge of the quagmire and then drive them back through the way we had just come.

We’d done this four or five times with Willie jumping, galloping and operating on a highly motivated level. He loved that kind of work. Most of my job during this melee was to give a little direction here and there and to cuss and yell at the cows.

We were in the pines on the far side of the creek, had just turned a couple of nasty, old Herefords back in the proper direction and, as we came up on the creek bed at a full gallop, Willie decided to take a high dive, angled a little to the right. This slammed my upper body into one of those large pine branches that don’t have much give, crashing me to the ground and knocking the wind out of me. Somehow, when the branch pushed me backward, my left foot went clear through the stirrup, leaving me in what you could call a horses— situation.

Willie was at a floundering hop-scotch through the swamp, keeping his eyes on the cows, and it happened so quick, what with the wetland and all, he hadn’t quite picked up on the whole situation yet. I still had hold of the left rein and all I could think was, “Don’t let go of that goddamn rein.”

In three or four seconds, we had made it through the mess of swamp and creek and were heading up the hill on dry ground. With both hands, I’d been pulling Willie’s head toward me, hoping I had some control. I finally got his head cocked around a little to the left, and he suddenly recognized our plight.

“Jesus, here we go,” I thought, and he shied to the right, doing a side-pass canter. A little further up the hill and we would be in a mess of rocks, but Willie slowed and began sidling along the small hillside sideways, trying to get loose of me, but staying reasonably calm. Each time he moved, I thought he might bolt.

Now, I carried a loaded pistol, but was too damned busy trying to save my skin to use it. I could see Willie was warming up to the mess, and I kept trying to calm him down with a voice that could barely speak. Finally he stopped, giving me a breath of time to extricate myself, but I’d better hurry. Willie’s muscles were trembling, and he was scared as hell.

Being the big boy he was, I couldn’t just reach up and untangle my foot, so with the help of my other leg, I managed to get my boot off, and got my foot back through the stirrup, feeling like I had accomplished some miracle. And I had.

Standing there cussing the mud, water and cow s— that covered me, I looked up to see the last of the ornery stragglers heading up the trail and there wasn’t much choice other than to get behind them and move ’em on up the trail. My mind was racing and I felt like crying. Maybe I did.

I eventually got back to cow camp, had a few beers while grilling a steak for dinner, thinking it had been one helluva day and I had survived.

In the middle of the night I was startled awake, my muscles shaking and my stomach churning, thinking how very close I had come to my last ride. I lit the lanterns, built a fire and took down several big swigs off the whiskey bottle, trying to cure the shakes. I went to sleep with my legs still twitching.

Julie Carter’s column can be found at

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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Grateful for Boebert


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