Olympic Sized Dreams


Snowie and I- 1994

You may or may not know that I used to be very involved the horses. Horses taught me so much and grew a confidence in me I didn’t know I was missing. Through horses, God has given me life long friends, instilled confidence, developed leadership skills,  led me to youth ministry, opened conversations to learn about Third Culture Kids, and so many other aspects of me I probably still don’t even realize. But when I was in high school, I didn’t know all God would use horses for. I just knew it was a fun challenge. I knew the barn was my “safe space”. Snowie’s mane absorbed many teenage tears. My parents knew as long as I was in the barn with horses, I was staying out of trouble.


Allegan Country Globe Trotters 4-H Club- 1997(?). I’m third from the right.

I was a typical horse-crazy little girl with close to 100 model horses and posters everywhere. I learned everything I could about them and watched anything I could find with a horse in it. So when it came to the Olympics, of course I would watch! It was one of few times equestrian events would be on the TV (pre-cable days!). I have always loved the Olympics. I remember the first time Germany competed as a unified nation; seeing North Korea and South Korea next to each other in the parade of nations. Recognizing how many countries are at war with each other but they could come together to compete in fun and good sportsmanship. It has always brought me to tears. As my horse interest and skills developed in high school, I asked my dad one day if he thought I had the talent to compete in the olympics someday. Being the wonderful, supportive dad that he was, he said he thought I did. With big dreams of just the opportunity (I didn’t need a medal!), I started doing research… what would it take to actually make it happen?  I quickly realized this dream would take a financial miracle to happen. The optimism of this dream quickly passed but the dream has stayed deep rooted in my heart.


Cran-Hill Ranch barn staff- 1996. I’m on the grey horse second from the left.

When I was in high school, I knew God wanted us to use our gifts for him. The only gift I recognized in myself was riding horses. So after completing high school, I went to work in the barn at Cran-Hill Ranch. I thought I was just going to use my gift of working with horses until friends opened my eyes to my gift of working with the kids, especially patience with the new riders.  God was leading me into Youth Ministry through horses. I still loved the horses and was very involved, but I recognized I had other gifts too! I sold Snowie after high school and bought Topper, a yearling I had hoped to pursue higher levels of competition with (only showed her one year). I started a 4-H horse club with a friend, advised the Calvin College Equestrian Team where I met a few TCKs and opened that passion, and now play with a 20+ year old Topper with my nieces and nephew.




It has now been three years since I have even been on a horse. I have only seen four horses in Tanzania in the three years I have been here. I still have Topper at my parents and cry when I pet her for the first time when I get home in the summers. But at this time, horses are no longer able to be a regular part of my life. The olympics however, are still very much a part of my passion! As I watched dressage this year, as the first rider came out, the commentator said, “This is our oldest competitor in this event at 61”. I was chatting with a student at the time telling him about my dream to compete in the olympics and excitedly told him what the commentator just said. His reply, “20 years. Start!” I laughed and said that would mean I would need to leave Tanzania and need LOTS of money to which he said, “Stay.” Haha, I thought is what he would say.

Many of us as we plan our future, make decisions based on financial stability and wealth while maybe consulting God in the process, but do we truly allow him to lead us? I had Olympic sized dreams for my life. God’s dreams were even bigger! I might not be financially rich, but the conversation with my student reminded me how much richer my life is because I did my best to followed God’s plans for my life. I asked a few students earlier in the year to comment on what having me at HOPAC as meant to them. Knowing God is using me in this way has made me richer than I could ever imagine. Here are their words:


Vandee- 1989 (?) Snowie- 1994 Topper- 2000(?)

“Miss Laarman or my teacher or my academic counselor or my friend or my mama (white mama)is a person of unique character. Honestly, she has been there for me, from the day I stepped at the school. She is the number on teacher I find myself comfortable with. And that doesn’t just come from nowhere. It come with a heart that welcomes, a heart possessed by my mom, Ms. Rebecca Laarman. Her office, her home, and everywhere I meet her was a time of laughter, literally always (well just a few emotional moments).

She took care of me, I can say she was a path of God’s message to me in so many things… she understands what I mean… She is among the people I will never forget my entire life, she will forever have a safe a lovely place in my heart.

Miss, thank you for the man I am today. Forever your son. ” 2016 Graduate


“Miss Laarman has been exactly what I needed to get through HOPAC and prepare for university. She has been a person I could go to for help at any time of the day, LITERALLY. I have never had a doubt to ask her any question because she would always give a significant answer. When I look back at the previous two years at HOPAC, I don’t see how I could have done and achieved what I have done and achieved without her help. I thank God for her because she influenced not only my academics, but life in general.” 2016 Graduate


“It will not be fair to address Miss Laarman as my home room teacher and life skills teacher. She started her influence in my life 2 years ago,  made me more courageous and helped me become more confident. Watching her help others, random hang outs with her, birthday dinners, these are just a few of the good deeds I’ve got to see from her. She has been more than a mom to me, my life at HOPAC wouldn’t have been this awesome without her in it. I’m so thankful for her.😄😄” 2016 Graduate


Calvin College Equestrian teams: 2010 (I’m third from the left); 2012 (I’m behind the camera)








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