Three Legendary Equestrians on Their Rise to Success in the Saddle
You can call Tony Vagneur a lot of things—rancher, writer, storyteller, horse trainer, and businessman—but don’t call him a cowboy. “Cowboys are for rodeo,” says the fourth-generation Woody Creek resident with a wry smile.
Via “Saddle Sore,” his weekly column in the Aspen Times, Vagneur has gained a loyal readership for his take on such topics as local equine history, ranching, recycling, and land use, communicated with an easy, dry wit.
Though he grew up riding, he didn’t think much of it at the time. Riding was bit to bridle with cattle ranching, just something you did. His grandfather and father would get up in the morning, saddle their horses, and get to work. Today things are different, notes Vagneur, as ranchers don’t necessarily have the luxury of living near where their cattle graze. That means trailering horses when it’s time to check a herd. “It takes the magic out of ranching, to some degree,” he says.
But, continues Vagneur, learning to ride still has relevance; he considers it the best way to change negative mindsets toward ranching and educate cyclists and hikers about sharing trails.
“I think riding is even more important these days, for learning about horses and building self-confidence,” says Vagneur, whose daughter learned to ride at the Aspen Pony Club. “You take these little girls and put them on an 1,100- or 1,200-pound horse, and they learn to control them and think, ‘Wow, I must have magic in my fingers.’”
This accomplished equestrian emphasizes that success comes from an equal partnership between horse and rider. “To gain the respect of a horse, you have to treat them with respect,” Vagneur says. But don’t ask him which of his mounts he’s liked the most, either. “I’ll never say which one is my favorite, because when I die, they’ll get even with me.”
Karin Reid Offield
Born and raised in Aspen, Karin Reid Offield began riding and competing as a child. Unlike some who let life dim their true passions, she’s made equestrian sports her life. From competing internationally in jumping, horsemanship, and dressage to racing, starting children’s riding programs, and owning world-class equestrian facilities, Offield’s knowledge of horse culture is largely unrivaled. And now she’ll be moving back to Aspen from Michigan.
She’s also looking forward to the upcoming theatrical release of the feature documentary Harry and Snowman, which Offield helped produce. (The Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council will screen it at the Wheeler Opera House September 28.)
A favorite on the festival circuit, the film traces the incredible bond between Harry de Leyer, one of the most successful riders in the country, and Snowman, whom he bought off a meat truck for $80 in 1956. Under de Leyer’s care and training, Snowman transformed from an emaciated plow horse to a vibrant, loyal, and internationally famous show jumper.
“The movie has the ability to start discussions about the importance of keeping horses in the landscape,” says Offield. A Snowman Rescue Fund was established to help give other horses destined for the slaughterhouse a second chance. Chalk it up to Offield’s passion for the animals who provided her life’s work.
Given that there’s rarely a photo taken of local realtor Carol Dopkin that doesn’t include a horse, it may be a surprise to learn that she didn’t begin riding until she was an adult. Dopkin and her husband, Buzz, moved to Aspen from Baltimore in 1979, loading kids and dogs in their camper van and making their way cross-country.
She started riding at Six Mile Ranch (now Cozy Point) and immediately found her new hobby. “When I was with horses, it was good for my soul,” says Dopkin, who now has a barn full of her own mounts at her McLain Flats ranch.
Eventually Dopkin, who now works with Engel & Völkers, decided she wanted to incorporate horses into her real estate business. Taking clients on rides and even showing properties by horseback has earned her the moniker “the Realtor with horse sense,” which makes her beam with pride.
Over the years Dopkin has competed with her saddlebreds; learned jumping, eventing, and driving; fallen in love with fox hunting; bred horses; boarded horses; and taken up trail riding. Concerned about diminishing options on local trails, Dopkin also helped found the Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council in 2003.
Her latest project is Friends of Cozy Point, created to benefit the city-owned horse facility. “Even though the place is rustic, the life-enhancing experience there is irreplaceable,” says Dopkin of the ranch, where her granddaughter—in what's now a family tradition—rides on the equestrian team.
"I had a vision of eagles and horses
High on a ridge in a race with the wind
Going higher and higher and faster and faster
On eagles and horses I’m flying again,
I’m flying again, I’m flying again."
John Denver, "Eagles and Horses"