Photo provided by Carla DeVille
Co-Owner of ReMax the Group. The Whole Story? She spent a season as a female jockey in Wyoming, and won.
A horse-crazy little girl moves all over the country, settles in the West, sets her mind to be a jockey when female jockeys are unheard of in the United States, and against the odds, realizes her dream. It’s the stuff Hollywood blockbusters are made of, but this is no movie plot. It’s the little-known childhood story of Carla DeVille, Co-owner of ReMax the Group here in Casper.
By the time DeVille was five years old she had lived in Houston, Texas, Midland, Texas, Lafayette, Louisiana, Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, and Midland, Texas again. Her father was a young engineer for Superior Oil during that time, and after five years of constant moving he was transferred to Casper where, according to DeVille, he put his foot down and told the company he wasn’t moving again.
Carla’s parents put down roots in Casper and her mother purchased Wyoming Natural Foods, (what is now Alpenglow), when she was 12 years old, she said. Around that same time, Carla got her first horse.
“Nobody in my family had any interest in riding at all . . .” said DeVille. “It was just me and I was always horse crazy. I did the main things like 4H and barrel racing and roping and all that stuff for high school, but then in my head I decided I wanted to ride professionally. I wanted to be a jockey, and I was going to do that. Whatever it took, that’s what I was going to do!”
DeVille’s passion for horses and riding became a prevailing theme in her young life.
“I loved horses,” said DeVille. “I read books about horses. I wanted to ride all the time. Anytime we’d go on vacation I’d go riding.”
Not long after DeVille got her first taste of horsemanship, she had the opportunity to shape and work young horses to get them ready for riding. It was her first cobblestone on the path to being a jockey.
“I was maybe 15 years old and there were some people that used to come into my mom’s store who lived out by Hell’s Half Acre. My mom got to be friends with them, and then I got to know them. They asked me if I wanted to come live with them one summer and break colts for them, so I said sure. And my parents were fine with it, they let me do a lot of things, so I went out and stayed with their kids and I broke colts all summer.”
Before long others noticed her talent for working with colts and DeVille got her break into riding professionally. Jace Carden, an old-time horse trainer in Casper helped teach her how to break horses and train horses, according to DeVille, which lead to working at the fairgrounds, gate training horses after school.
Looking back DeVille marvels at the risks she took.
“So that was really interesting because I think I got paid two dollars to break a colt out of the gate,” said DeVille. And now I think about it like: for two dollars I could die. Seriously! I got bucked off in the gate and the horses would be standing over me and I’d be looking up at them. I would have to scramble out from under the gate.
Her memories are fuzzy about sequences of events and how she met some of the people who helped her along, and while she doesn’t remember how she met the man who would give her the opportunity to ride, Carla remembers the rest.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t know how I ran into him,” said DeVille. “He was from South Dakota and he asked me if I would come break colts for him there. He would let me ride and I was graduating, so of course I jumped at the chance to do that.”
When she got there, she wasn’t as well received as she had hoped.
“When I was riding in that short period of time I didn’t run across any other female riders. . .” said DeVille. “There were a few females that helped exercise the horses, but they weren’t riding. I remember, when I went into Park Jefferson, the males were not very happy. I had to have my own dressing room and my own place that I stayed. It was considered a man’s thing. For some reason men looked at it like if you were playing baseball and got beaten by a girl.”
She didn’t let it bother her and kept her focus on what she wanted: to ride, she said.
DeVille would ride in Belle Fouche and Park Jefferson, South Dakota where, on a recognized track, she won her first race. But DeVille’s first win wasn’t just a first win for her, it was a first win by a female in the region.
“I was told, and I can’t know this for sure, but I was told that I was the first female to win a race in the Midwest in 1973,” DeVille remembers. “I wasn’t the first female jockey to win a race in the United States. That happened in 1969 in West Virginia, I think.”
At the end of the season, after several more races and a second win, in South Sioux City, according to DeVille, things would go wrong.
“It actually happened in an incident in the early morning,” DeVille said, her voice going a bit quieter. “We had had a horse in a stable that I had been riding for that had been laid up in a stall for a few weeks and they asked me if I would go ahead and start tracking her. So I went over to get on her and they took me over to the track with a pony horse about half way around they asked if they could let me go. I said sure, you can let me go, and they turned me loose. She took maybe three or four gallops and bucked me off. She was a really tall horse, 17 hands or so, a big Thoroughbred. She bucked me off over her head. The sun was just coming up in the morning and she couldn’t see me, so she ran over me. I dislocated my collar bone, and broke about three or four transverse processes on my spine. After that I was laid up for a while. I was tired by then and I had done it and was ready to move on.
DeVille went on to help her mother run one of her health food stores where she said she learned about dealing with people. “Which I had only been dealing with animals, pretty much,” said DeVille. “That’s who I talked to, that’s who I knew, and that’s who I understood.”
When a friend approached her about getting a real estate license, she was doubtful at first, but warmed up to the idea and decided to give it a shot, she said.
“It was six or nine weeks of night classes that you took and then you did your exam,” said DeVille. “After I passed my exam I jumped in with both feet. It wasn’t easy. There were times I questioned: Is this really what I should be doing? In real estate there are a lot of ups and downs, and you have to be able to maneuver those. But when you’re young in the business you spend too much time being affected by the downs and trying to figure it out, instead of knowing there’s plenty more and moving forward.”
Carla DeVille did figure it out and has gone on to be one of three owners of REMAX the Group, first in sales for sixteen years, according to their Market Report. With a long history of setting goals and attaining them, DeVille had this advice to offer:
“It just goes to show you what you can do if you focus on something and for women and girls, all you have to do is know what you want, and be very specific about what you want. Put it out there in the universe, take action and help yourself, and you’re going to get it. It’s going to come around.”
Unfortunately all family photos of Carla DeVille riding were burned in a house fire.