Sunday, November 13, 2011

By popular request...

My First Saddle

            Giving is an art. Lending a helping hand to the needy is akin to a drop of water on a pond, still as glass. When the initial drop hits, it makes a little splash (the good feeling). However, the ripple effect goes on and on, accomplishing more than one little droplet could’ve ever hoped to on its own (the everlasting rewards). I learned valuable lessons about helping others when I was a kid. One such lesson learned involves the story of my first saddle. It must’ve been when I was about 11 years old…
My family always had livestock, did some dry farming, but my old man thought a horse was an unnecessary expense. Our little place could be worked afoot, with a pickup, or by trapping the few cattle, we ran, in the corral. Typical little nester / starvation outfit on the wind-swept, high plains of eastern New Mexico.
All I ever wanted however was to be a cowboy. Not just a guy who wore a hat and boots, but the real deal. There were a lot of real cowboys around that part of the country and I admired them. Sure, some were wild and free, not housebroke by many standards, but most were stand-up kind of guys. They were my earliest heroes. Of course, you’re not much of a cowboy if you don’t own a horse or saddle, I concluded.
So one summer I convinced my dad to let me hoe cotton for a neighbor at $1.00 per hour. My motive was to buy a horse since my folks wouldn’t (couldn’t) buy one for me. The old man agreed, as long as it didn’t interfere with my normal duties on our place (which were plenty).
I woke an hour or two earlier that summer and went to bed an hour or two later. I worked my little butt off and thankfully the neighbor was flexible on my work schedule. I spent every waking hour possible in that cotton field craving the $1.00 per hour which represented a means to my eventual goal of being a cowboy. I managed to labor quite a few hours each week in that hot cotton field. These, of course, being hours over and above the ones I worked on our place as part of my “keep.”
Towards the end of summer, Mr. Neighbor found out what I was working for; offering to trade me a crossbred Appaloosa filly for the summer’s wages I had coming. Being sooo anxious to actually own a horse, I agreed. Looking back on the deal now, all I’ve got to say is the neighbor made one heck of a trade! It was my first experience (lesson) on horse trading but that’s another story.
I now owned a horse and my dad wouldn’t buy extra feed for her; too costly. I had to work harder than ever to keep my horse fed as school was started by then. Most of the time I pulled weeds from the bar ditch to feed her, other times I hauled hay or did chores for neighbors in exchange for feed.
Long about that fall, I started to ride her.
You see, I had no saddle. Something like that would’ve been useless around our outfit and therefore it was obviously a frivolous expense. A halter came with the trade and I’d bought an old bridle at the auction for a couple bucks. That was my entire inventory of tack. I rode my treasured horse anyway…bareback.
Other kids in school who were supposedly “cowboys” made fun of me behind my back but I didn’t care. I wanted to be a real cowboy and have my very own horse. I’d show ‘em all…I’d find a way to get a saddle…perhaps next year?
Training an unbroken filly by an eleven year old boy is one thing. Training a young filly by an inexperienced eleven year old boy who had no instruction and no saddle is quite another. That was one of my first experiences with perseverance and patience.
One day after school, the mom of one of my classmates invited us out to their ranch for some reason. I believe it was the first time I’d ever been out there. I really paid attention because this was a REAL ranch. I was impressed! The DePuy family ran cattle on about 32,000 acres of sand hill country and they were known for raising good horses.
Before we left for home, the lady of the ranch, Marlene DePuy, offered me an old saddle from the barn. I was astounded…didn’t quite know what to think. It was too big a gift to be taken lightly. I offered to work it off, make payments, what ever it took but she insisted I just take it and that was that. The old saddle didn’t have any látigos, cinches, was dried out, cracking, and had a miss-matched pair of stirrups. At the time it probably wasn’t worth $20.00 (about $100.00 today) but to someone who had as little as I did, it was a HUGE gesture. Back then I considered it the most valuable gift I’d ever received.
At the lady’s advice I took it down to a local saddle shop and the man there helped me get the old thing back into useable shape. After throwing in a saddle blanket and a wore out catch rope, my bill came to much more than I had available. Luckily, he let me charge things. It took me almost the rest of the school year to repay him.
I now had what I needed to be a fully outfitted cowhand! That’s where the education really began.
I practiced daily with the old catch rope. I rode every chance I could in spite of very little instruction. Every time I’d see Mrs. DePuy however, she’d ask about my horse and how things were coming. She was always wise to a young boy’s feelings and would drop little hints about horses and cowboying which were very helpful. Never direct orders, mind you, not unsolicited advice (I was too prideful for that) just helpful hints I was too foolish to ask for. Somehow she knew to be careful, not wounding my fragile, budding confidence.
I hung on her every word without trying to show my ignorance too much. Through trial, error, lots of wrecks and just pure-d ole grit and determination, somehow I got through it all. That saddle and hints garnered from Mrs. DePuy helped launch my cowboy career ahead by years.
Eventually I traded up in the horse and tack department. Shoot, I’m still doing that to this very day! But everyone starts somewhere and now you know my humble beginnings into cowboydom. I’ve owned many horses and saddles since then but never have I forgotten my first ones, or what it took to get them.
The real story here is about giving, sharing and helping people out who need it more than you do. Marlene DePuy knew the art of giving. When she gave me that saddle, the only thing she got initially was the little “Splash” (the good feeling). That’s not why she did it though; not just for a little thanks either. She assisted people because she loved helping people. Marlene did stuff like that for folks all the time.
Unfortunately, Mrs. DePuy met an untimely death about a decade later. I had already gone out into the world to find my own place by then and I’m sure I never thanked her enough. The effects from her unselfish acts were definitely not wasted. I know, at least in my case, their still being felt in the pond of life to this day.
I learned from fine folks like Marlene DePuy. That’s how I got my start and I’ve never forgotten acts of kindness done for me; especially those done when I needed it most. I know as well as anyone how small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in another’s life. I also know the ripple effect of giving goes on and on; possibly longer than your own mortality!
Thought I’d just share that lil ole story with you. It did, and still does, mean a lot to me. Thanks, Marlene.

Jim Olson
© 2010


  1. I still receive many requests for reprints of this article...thanks to all who read my ramblings.

  2. Dear Jim,
    I read your post and it started me thinking about my first horse adventure. My parents didn't support my quest to ride horses. I had to beg and plead to ride the automated ponies at the front of the grocery store. I held anyone mounted on a horse, hostage for as long as I could just so I could feel or touch a horse. I plastered my face against the car windows when we passed a horse trailer on the highway. Usually I couldn't see very clearly out the window because my dad was a smoker and wouldn't vent the smoke but a little out the front door.
    But I remember, I started work at age 11 at the local soft serve ice cream store. My parents bought the adjacent restaurant, and I ran the ice cream part of the store. I was the only one who could pull apart the soft serve machines, clean them, put them back together, and have everything running again within 30 minutes. That was my horse money. I will never forget my first pay check that went to pay for my first horse. It was magic.
    Now I'm married to Hoot Dotson and I have to say, we have days when I say, "No more horses!" But I'll never regret paying for hay to watch horse out my kitchen window, or to ride in the early morning, or to know how to ride with the help of a good cowboy...Hoot!

  3. What a great story Janet. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Jim,

    Thanks for this story. My Mom, Marlene was an amazing lady. She did do things like this all the time. It is just great after all these years to be reminded of all the goodness and kindness she did.....I pray I can give that legacy to my daughter and son. Thanks old friend for sharing. Keep doing the good work and sharing inspirational stories.

    Loretta (DePuy) Storment

  5. My name is Eric Jorgenson, my mother is Dorothy Egan. I would like to know more about my aunt Marlene. Thanks. (920) 540-0306