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Vagneur: No use predicting a horse’s nature

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

As my buddy Bob sometimes says, I have a corral full of misfits. Like incorrigible dogs headed to the pound, horses with bad reputations and unhappy owners come calling with regularity. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve paid good money for some of them; others not so much.

A couple of years ago, we picked up Chief, a brown-and-white paint who is still being cussed by his previous owners. Big, tall, well-coordinated and beautiful, he was almost unusable when I got him. I figured him to be a packhorse, but he wouldn’t cross the smallest of streams, and when he finally did, he jumped almost higher than the nearest aspens, occasionally landing partially on the horse I was riding.

That was somewhat dangerous with four or five sharp-edged, 40-pound salt blocks coming my way in addition to the horse. A lot of my patience and good fortune got him over that just to find out he was a dedicated dog-killing SOB, as evidenced by his sneak attack on my daughter’s dog, Earl, with a well-landed front hoof. Otherwise, he fit right in. And you can trust me — the dog was no threat to him.

It seemed maybe I should get another packhorse, allowing my other horses more time to hone their cattle-working skills, and in the usual way of the cowboy world, all you have to do is think something, and word gets around. The call came, and I sat on it for a week, not wanting to get in too much trouble with a new steed.

His name is Jango, although everyone seems to ask if the “D” is silent, as in “Django,” the infamous 1966 spaghetti western of the same name. And no, he’s not a free radio advertisement, either, although if one wanted to be obtuse about it, you could say his name is Jhango, the “h” being silent. Light brown, with patches of almost-gold hair dancing like scallops along his rib cage in the glancing sunlight, his sleek coat sports a three-dimensional sheen. He doesn’t have any white,unless you count the lighter-brown, tiny oval along his belly that looks as though someone might have spilled a dash of bleach on him.

“He sure is a frog walker he heaves a big sigh / He only lacks wings for to be on the fly / He turns his ol’ belly right up to the sun / He sure is a sun-fishing son-of-a-gun.” — From “The Strawberry Roan,” by Curly Fletcher.

Naw, that ain’t him, but he could get a guy hurt. He doesn’t yet know that those salt blocks he’s packing (to salt licks for the cows) make him wider than he’s used to, and he’s a little bit of hell on gate posts. If you let him near your pickup, he’d no doubt take a mirror off without so much as a shrug. The other day, he whacked a large, dead aspen on the way by, knocking it directly onto my horse’s butt and my left arm. A soundless attack, attributed to his sense of humor, I reckon. Damned near got me bucked off. That stuff just goes with the territory, and besides, I think he’s gonna make a good cow pony after we work the kinks out.

He’s willing, gentle, smart and eager to please, and he always carries a curious look on his face. If you cuss him too hard, the curiosity deepens to wonder, and he makes you feel bad about it. He can drop, roll, get up and do a bucking 360, all within the space of a lazy blink. As my dad always said, “Beware the horse you think gentle.”

The gist of the story, if there is one, is that we shall see how he works out. It is never wise to question the intentions of those with whom you trade horses. If you get a good horse, give thanks. If you don’t, be smarter the next time.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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