WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING: Casper Author Shares Story of Adoption to Encourage Others (Part 2)

‘God and Good Horses’ parallels Sallie Hawken’s family journey through fertility struggles and the foster care system

Sallie Hawken is a mother of three, equine massage therapist and author of the new book "God and Good Horses," a fictionalized account of her journey to become a parent through the foster care system and adoption. (Courtesy photo from Sallie Hawken)

By Elizabeth Sampson

Special to the Wyoming Truth

This is part two of the Wyoming Truth’s profile of Casper resident Sallie Hawken, who recently published “God and Good Horses” (Christian Faith Publishing), a fictionalized account about her path from unexplained infertility to adoption through foster care. Click here to read part one.

In 2016, after ruling out IVF and traditional adoption, Sallie and Seth Hawken decided to become foster parents. It wasn’t an overnight process. To attain certification, the  couple were required to complete a training program with the Wyoming Department of Family Services, participate in a home study and endure rigorous interviews.

Initially, the Hawkens hoped to provide a home for a child under age 5. The social worker asked them to consider 9-year-old Talea, a Native American girl with a traumatic past, instead.

“It seemed like again we may be getting in over our heads, but we felt that push toward her—that this was really meant to be, that this was the plan,” Hawken said.

They visited Talea at the foster home where she lived at the time and stayed in the town so they could spend time getting to know her. The Hawkens bought Talea toys, books and board games. They took her to see a movie and visited a museum. Together, they spent hours building pillow forts in their hotel room. 

“There was a moment when we were saying goodbye to her just for the night, and she just gripped onto the tail of Seth’s coat,” Hawken, 34, recalled. “We almost had to pull her little fists off of him. She didn’t want us to go.”

Trent, Talea and Lily Hawken enjoy sibling time together. All three were adopted through foster care. (Courtesy photo from Sallie Hawken) 

Through their classes with social workers at the Wyoming Department of Family Services and the family services agency in the state where Talea lived, the Hawkens were prepared for a different initial reaction from Talea.

“They actually had told us early on that she had been through so much trauma that she might never attach to anybody [and not to] take it personally if you meet her and she just basically hates you. . . ” Hawken said. “She attached to us on the first day we met her, and we just attached to her.”

That’s not to say everything was easy once Talea finally came home with them in February 2018. Hawken put her equine massage therapy business on hold for about a year to care for Talea—a hard transition because she had always worked. Talea, then age 10, faced struggles, too.

“Talea was combative and controlling and closed off,” Hawken recalled. “She rejected any form of parenting or love because she didn’t know how to accept it. She literally didn’t know what real love was or what a real parent’s job is. [But] after being with us for several months, it was like a switch went off in Talea’s mind, and she was attached to us. We were hers.”

Talea’s adoption was official in January 2019. Now she is a 15-year-old rising junior at Natrona County Virtual School. She loves the western way of life and her two younger siblings, Lily, 8, and Trent, 7, half-siblings from Casper; the Hawkens also adopted them through foster care in 2021.

The family enjoys life on their acreage outside of Casper. They take Jeep adventures in the Rattlesnake Mountains and the Big Horn Mountains, and the kids have fun tagging along on their dad’s hunting trips.

Talea isn’t passionate about rodeo like her younger siblings do, but she loves to ride horses, gather cows and help at brandings. While Seth is teaching her how to weld and how to shoot a gun, her grandfather is teaching her all about the cowboy lifestyle. Talea also helps Sallie teach a children’s Sunday school class, and this week she is assisting with their church’s vacation Bible school.

Today, when Hawken sees a baby or a toddler, she sometimes feels like she missed out on an important part of the parenting experience.

“But I remind myself that when my kids see a baby, they wonder if they were loved when they were that small,” Hawken said. “They don’t know if someone rocked them to sleep or cherished them the way a baby should be cherished. They feel like they missed out, too. So we all focus on the now and make it the best that it can be.”

Faith fosters a story of hope

Reflecting on all that she, Seth and their three children endured to become a family, Hawken felt inspired to share their story with others facing a similar struggle.

The Hawken children are seen riding horses with their grandmother, Angie Phillips. (Courtesy photo from Sallie Hawken) 

Seth, a 40-year-old welder, said when Sallie told him she wanted to write a book, he asked her why.

“She says, ‘Well, I feel God’s telling me to write it,’” he recalled. “You don’t argue with the man upstairs.”

Hawken came up with the book’s title before she began writing, because it was God and good horses that saved both her and her daughter. She said God kept Talea safe while she was living through traumatic experiences as a little girl, and it was Hawken’s experiences with horses that helped her understand her daughter better.

You have to read horses; they can’t tell you what they’re thinking,” Hawken said. “In the same way, Talea couldn’t tell us why she acted the way she did…Besides that, horses are, in my opinion, the best therapeutic animal there is. Talea could trust her secrets to her horse. Her horse never hurt her, never judged her. She could focus on caring for him and learning how to ride and rope and give herself a break from the worry and fear that consumed her.”

Finding time to write “God and Good Horses” while raising three children and re-opening her equine massage therapy business wasn’t easy for Hawken.

“I most definitely had to fit in where I could—early mornings or maybe a free afternoon or maybe really late at night,” said Hawken, noting that it took her three years to write the 420-page book. “There were times I thought maybe I wouldn’t finish it. There were times I thought maybe I would finish it and just keep it for myself. But I just felt it was an important story to tell.”

Hawken said Talea calls herself the number one fan of “God and Good Horses.”

“I was afraid it was going to be hard for her to read, but I think it was kind of settling for her to read the whole story front to back, and to know that what she had to go through, good things could come from it,” Hawken said.

Seth hopes his wife’s book helps people understand the need for foster parents, even though the foster care system can be difficult to navigate.

“It can be frustrating and turn people away,” he said. “Most of the kids aren’t bad kids—they just grew up in a bad situation.”

Likewise, Hawken hopes “God and Good Horses” will encourage other aspiring parents to pursue foster care and adoption.

“I don’t know what the solution is, but I hope the book starts a conversation about this —a real problem that is going on,” she said. “These kids are suffering and it gets swept under the rug, and we need to do something about it. I also want it to be a story of faith and of hope. The Lord does have a plan for us, and He does love us. If you feel like you are alone, you’re not. He’s there.”

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