Vagneur: Salute to the nimble creature |

Vagneur: Salute to the nimble creature

It started at a horse auction, one of those unusual but real places where “killer” buyers stalk the ring, buying up unwanted, cheap horses to send to Canada or Mexico. If a horse doesn’t get sold to an individual, it goes to the slaughterhouse.

“I looked to him, he looked down at me and we clicked right away. I paid $80 for that horse.” And so the story began of a discarded Amish plow horse and a Dutch immigrant, culminating in the words of owner and savior, Harry deLeyer, “Snowman was more than a horse — he was my best friend.”

My friend Buck Deane has been known to say, “A good horse is where you find it,” meaning that the horse’s performance or meaning to you personally is more important than pedigree, papers, training or all the other things horse traders may attempt to convince you are of prime importance.

Many times it has been said, “To look into the eye of a horse is to see eternity.” Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. Some cultures in the past have considered horses worthy of gods, or they’ve had them play roles in sacred rituals. What can be more awe-inspiring than watching a herd of horses galloping across an open field, manes and tails tousled by the speed and power of their play, a pure exemplification of the joy and freedom such display exhibits.

When we see such a spectacle, we should take the time to recognize the importance of the horse in our valley. Equus caballus catapulted the Utes into one of the “wealthiest” of the Native American tribes, and their reputation as superior horsemen was known far and wide. Before the train made it to Aspen, horses pulled freight wagons and stagecoaches up and down the valley, including over Independence Pass. They’ve provided transportation to ranchers keeping the trails in the surrounding mountains open for safe travel.

When we look at a horse grazing peacefully in a green pasture, we should salute the nimble creature not only for all of the contributions his forebears have made to the valley but also for his own impact on our present-day culture.

Many of the open vistas you see in the area are due to the presence of the horse, a beast who requires open space for his survival. Once thought to be attainable only by wealthy folks, people of all persuasions and demographics are into riding and being around horses.

Why am I talking this way, you wonder? A local group known as the Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council is diligently working to bring knowledge of the horse and his world to the people of the valley. It has put together a unique collaboration of interested groups to raise money for the Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council; Windwalkers, a therapeutic riding and learning center; and the Snowman Rescue Fund, self-explanatory.

As such, there will be an advanced screening of “Harry and Snowman” on Wednesday — the story mentioned in the opening paragraph of this column. Executive producer of the film is Aspen native Karin Reid Offield, a familiar name in the horse world. On top of everything, listening to deLeyer narrate portions of the film with his Dutch accent is an auditory delight.

Gallop back in time 40 years to a Jeep road in the mountains high above Woody Creek. My big horse Willie, brand new to me, and I had just left cow camp and the sound of an approaching vehicle prompted us to duck into the timber just off the road. I was still a little skeptical of Willie, a total powerhouse, but as the Jeep slowly passed, a passenger remarked out the window, “That horse really loves you.” Willie had a home for life.

If you watch the horses get in line at Windwalkers, waiting for their riders to mount up, you get a sense of awe watching them. Whether they’re retired $50,000 event ponies or $80 cast-offs, they are the same in the sense that they are rescues, have similar temperaments and do their jobs with total aplomb and pride. Their stoic but caring countenances tell the observer that they realize their importance to the men, women and children who rely on them to provide an avenue to a better understanding of their issues, whether they be physical, neurological, emotional, behavioral or psychological.

In the end, that’s what horses provide for all of us, whether we work with them on a daily basis, take an occasional trail ride or simply observe them as we drive our cars or ride our bikes alongside their pastures — a better and deeper understanding of our own selves. For that we are grateful.

Tickets at the Wheeler Box Office are going fast. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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