I am honored to have this moving blog post by Laura Hickman. Be sure to have some kleenex close by as she opens a door and invites you in to her childhood. A childhood filled with some very painful memories, and how an abandoned horse galloped through Laura’s life, giving her confidence, courage, and passion – Laura Hickman lives in Linden, VA and is a home school mom of 4 children, aged 6-12. She is an aspiring Equine Specialist and hopes to have her own farm in the near future.
I loved my Dad. We did a lot together while my mom studied to become a nurse. He would pick me up from childcare, make my special bread so I wouldn’t be embarrassed at school (I had severe allergies), and take me fishing. We’d watch TV together while I put lotion on his forearms where the Marine Corp tattoos had been removed. We even had a stash of Pringles secreted away under the front seat of his VW Bug. We were inseparable!
Unfortunately, by the time I was 7, my parents were battling their way through a not-so-nice divorce when my father, instead of taking me to school as planned, kidnapped me. His hope was that my mother would become so distraught that she would commit suicide. The only details I remember of the days I was in hiding are the fact that I had a stuffed Snoopy toy, and that my mother swooped in to rescue me as I was making mud pies in the backyard. It was then that fear entered my heart. Fear of being left, and fear of being kidnapped again.
Six years later, in 1983, my mom remarried. We moved to a new house and I, to a new school. Moving and attending a new school were positive experiences for me, having a step-father was not.
My step-father was a very bright man who had escaped from Hungary, a country behind the Iron Curtain, with nothing but a sandwich in his pocket and the clothes on his back. Within 10 months of arriving in the United States, he had learned enough English at Georgetown University to be accepted into an Engineering program at the University of Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before it became apparent that he was dealing with severe psychological issues which he was no longer able to suppress successfully. In 1986, he was diagnosed with depression, and Paranoid Schizophrenia, shortly before taking his own life. His bursts of anger and the yelling that ensued were frightening. I didn’t want to be at home, yet I felt that I needed to be home to protect my mom. His anger was not limited to yelling – on separate occasions he pinned my mom on the floor, threw a drink at her, and disconnected the garage door openers so we couldn’t get in the house. Another time, he accused me of slamming a door in his face. In my minds’ eye I can still see him entering his room when I slammed the door, but that didn’t prevent him from breaking down the door and striking me across the face. He refused to repair the shattered door frame for several months, wanting me to remember my offense, and the subsequent punishment.
It was during this time that Poppins came into my life. She was a 26-year-old mare that had been abandoned by an owner that could no longer afford to keep her. She had been fed, but not much else. Each night was spent in a tiny standing stall with so much manure that she was forced to stand facing downhill. Despite her discomfort from severe thrush and an unseasonably long coat, she was a gentle teacher who never lost her patience with my ignorance. She gave me so much more than riding lessons. Her gifts to me were confidence, courage, and passion. And she had the best ear of any counselor. I could pour out my heart to her without fear of what she thought, or that she would report back to my mom. She wouldn’t leave me and she loved me despite all she knew about me.
Helen Thompson once said, “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” There could not be a truer statement for me. Riding was my avenue of escape and healing. It gave me confidence, and made me feel strong, both mentally and physically.
Without Poppins, and the horses that galloped through my life after her, I would not be the person I am today. There is not a doubt in my mind that horses kept me from the drugs, crime and promiscuity that snare so many others with similar experiences.
Poppins is the very definition of a hero! She selflessly carried me and shared her friendship, happy only in my companionship and attention, and all despite her pain. I didn’t know it then, but as my horse knowledge has increased, I see now that she probably suffered from Cushing’s and Chronic Laminitis.
I’ve always known that I loved Poppins, but I never realized until writing this blog just how deep her impact really was. It has taken me several months to finish these few paragraphs…I had to stop and grieve my loss of her. I found out this year that the owner of the barn had offered to sell her to my mom and step dad for $100, but they turned her down. Instead, she went to a girl who thought it was a good idea to call me and brag that Poppins was no longer my friend, but hers. I have never forgotten that call.
That call was the last I ever heard about Poppins. I don’t know how much longer she lived, or where they might have buried her. I wish I could kiss her sweet muzzle just one more time…