Vagneur: Challenging my knowledge of the universe |

Vagneur: Challenging my knowledge of the universe

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

We rode together a lot that summer, a 9-year-old girl and me, in rhythm with nature and our surroundings in a way that created unforgettable memories for each of us.

As chief irrigator for the Moore Ranch back then, it was my habit in the late afternoon to head out across McLain Flats after sitting behind a desk all day, a chance to saddle my horse and move the irrigation water, unless, of course, a watering hole sidetracked me along the way.

We fell into an easy alliance, Cinnamon Moore and me, as we brushed, curried and saddled Kiowa and Smokey each evening, two unforgettable ol’ boys who were our mounts. Kiowa, an older buckskin appaloosa, was raised at the T Lazy 7 and was a top contender in the cutting-horse world early in his life. Smokey, a well-conformed gray gelding with a naturally graceful way about him, was owned by Craton Burkholder, a vet, and pastured at the Moores’ for the summer and for Cinnamon’s pleasure.

We’d make the rounds before sunset, heading out from the famous red barn in whatever direction we needed to go until I’d stop to change a set of water. Sometimes, Cinnamon would hold Kiowa for me, other times, I’d just drop the reins and let him eat. At the time, I didn’t really know how much 9-year-old girls could talk, never really having been one-on-one with one before, but I soon learned.

As always, the summer was too short: We got the hay up and looked forward to winter. Kiowa stayed at the Moores’ and Burkholder hauled Smokey off to a faraway ranch for boarding. You see movies about cattle rustlers and horse thieves and there’s a reason such culprits get hanged — because they deserve it. Someone stole Smokey that winter, and I can honestly say that it still troubles me, wondering what happened to him. I know it still bothers Cinnamon, too.

But little girls are quick to adapt to a changing world, and the next summer, Star came into her life, a very dark brown (black, you’d say, with a white star on her forehead) Arab — thoroughbred cross, a mare with the energy of Helios, the sun god, and a personality a tad on the rebellious side. Cinnamon was up to the task and kept that little horse in line. She joined the Roaring Fork Hounds Pony Club and we seldom rode together after that.

And then she was off — moving up to Midnight, a big, black hunter/jumper, a true competitor — riding in a horse show every weekend, hanging around with Buck Deane, her parents and me after baling hay, listening to us play music and sing. And then there was college. It seemed like I never saw her at all, and somewhere along the way she became a beautiful woman. She married Teran, began her own family and kept her horses going on her ranch downvalley.

Strange, but I was off, as well, after that summer. Got married and had a beautiful little girl of my own, one that asked so many questions and had an insatiable thirst for knowing about everything. And when she did that, she always reminded me of Cinnamon, and because of that relationship I’d had with Cinnamon years before, I was a little better at answering my own daughter’s questions. And my daughter had horses: Telby, Reebok and Belle, and we went to Pony Club horse shows every weekend.

“Don’t let her talk your ears off,” Cinnamon’s mother used to say as we click-clacked out of the yard, eager for another adventure, and all the while I was thinking, “Man, I love listening to what Cinnamon has to say.” It’s a funny thing, and I don’t know if adults think about it very much, and I didn’t back then when I was still in my 20s, but for every question a child asks, they challenge your knowledge of the universe, force you to put your own philosophy out where you have to delineate it a way that not only makes sense to you out loud, but to the person who asked the question. I learned a lot from Cinnamon that summer.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at