At twelve years old, Dickinson State University student Gavin Leppert used his money saved from selling his calves each year and odd jobs to purchase his first horse Nicholas (Nick). Leppert recalled with a somewhat mischievous grin, “I remember my parents asking me who is coming down the road with a horse trailer. I just told them it was my friend Amanda.” Amanda was arriving that
day with Nick in the back of her trailer from St. John, North Dakota. When asked if his parents were surprised, he said not really, it was my own money I used to buy him.

Nick was a stout bay roan with a zebra main that had many colors to it. A quirky horse that originated from a wild horse herd in Arizona, eventually making his way to a 12-year-old boy in North Dakota. The pair would have many great memories, including the start of Leppert’s bronc riding career. “I got dumped off him so many times,” shared Leppert, “my friends said I should just ride bucking horses.” Leppert went on to compete in saddle bronc and bareback through high school and into college. Nick was used as a practice horse from time to time. He was perfect at it, given his temper when someone would put their heels in his neck to crow hop a bit in distaste.

While Nick was not the most accustomed to being ridden outside a trail when arriving at the Leppert ranch, Gavin would train him to work cows, ride in the arena, and even attempt some team roping off of him. Loading Nick up his rusty trailer hooked to his old pickup truck, at 13 years old, Leppert would take the gravel roads slowly to the arena in Edgely, ND. He would park his proud
rig, usually still smoking, next to the nicer trucks and make his way to the roping box. “I don’t think I caught anything,” said Leppert, “on the account that Nick didn’t cooperate much.”

In addition to the more western activities, Gavin and Nick would participate in Horse Play Days. Nick would carry him on to place a few times in the Keyhole Race. Leppert still has the photos on his phone to show off that great day with his special pal.

Some of Leppert’s most fond memories included walking home when Nick would decide to deposit him along the side of the road or into the lake. “One summer day we decided to swim the horses in the lake. Nick got spooked by my friend’s horse throwing her off and decided he would drop me in the water too. I had to walk back to camp soaking wet. Both of our horses were standing in their stalls eating hay like nothing happened.”

Leppert never knew how old Nick was, but when he started slowing down a few years ago, he figured he must be an old man. By this time, you could do anything with Nick. Nick would let you stand on him, shoot from him, and swing any type of rope; he even let Gavin take his senior photos on him, lounged on his back. Leppert knew just where he should go to live out the remainder of his years - back to St. John and the Shepherd’s Hill at the Cross Road Horse Camp as a kid’s horse. Although parting can be somewhat bittersweet, Leppert visits Nick on occasion since he spends summers serving as a wrangler and a farrier for the camp, “I have even trimmed him a few times,” said Leppert.

Gavin Leppert and his horse.Gavin Leppert and Nick with their winning ribbons from Play Day.

This story is posted as it appears in the Heart River Voice (March 2024  |  Vol. 6, No. 3  |  p. 6)

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