Leslie D. Hicks, a well-known upper-level competitor in U.S. eventing, passed away at her home in Citra, Florida, on the morning of November 30 from cancer. She was 58.
Born Leslie Carothers in Fullerton, California, in 1959, Leslie started her riding at the age of three in the California desert. She learned early on that if you fall off and lose your horse, it's a long walk home. From the beginning, she had the good fortune to ride with many prominent equestrians, and in the early 1970s became a working student for Dianne Olds Rossi, a protégé of Albert Ostermaier, Arthur Konyot, and Nuno Oliveira. Leslie was proud to have gotten her start with a mentor who'd been both an esteemed classical rider of world-famous Lipizzaner stallions and a horse trainer for the Walt Disney studios.
Always in the learning mode, Leslie left for Colorado to work with Monte Foreman – the original “horse whisperer” – who stimulated her interest in backing and training young horses, a passion that would shape her career for the next four decades.
In 1979, Leslie moved to the East Coast and started her own business in Jefferson, Massachusetts. She there met and later married Charles Hicks, Chief of the Holden Police Department. Together they opened and operated Integrity Equestrian Center, a large boarding, lesson, training, and sales facility that was annually listed as a Massachusetts Farm Bureau Horse Farm of Distinction. Leslie became a familiar face at New England events, coaching a myriad of students, including the Clark University Equestrian Team, while also showing her own horses.
An accomplished rider, Leslie competed at the two-star, Intermediate and Advanced levels in many international events, including Red Hills, Fair Hill International, Plantation Field, Morven Park, Jersey Fresh, The Fork, Radnor, and many more. She trained with Stephie Baer, Bruce Davidson, Pierre St Jacques, and Barend Heilbron, among others, and introduced her students to many of these legends through clinics she hosted at her facility.
After wintering in Florida for many years, Leslie and Charlie permanently relocated Integrity Equestrian Center to Citra, Florida in 2005. They became active members of the Ocala equestrian community and contributed greatly to the revival of the Florida Horse Park. Leslie continued to ride, train, and coach her students throughout her long battle with cancer.
Leslie embodied the spirit of eventing. She enjoyed the competition, but the welfare of the horses came first. She started her horses gently and brought them along patiently. For Leslie, it was all about the horses.
Of Leslie, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Davidson had this to say, “Her spirit, her positive attitude, her hustle, and her resolve made her a strength unto herself. She was a very positive force in me, and in our sport, and will be very greatly missed."
One of Leslie’s dearest friends was Mary Hazzard, the legendary rider and breeder who owned and competed the incomparable event horse Babamist, the leading sire of American event horses today. Mary's remembrance of Leslie is poignant and true, "The thing about Leslie’s life is that whether she knew it or not she had a cause, and that cause was to educate people about the need for the love of relationships with animals -- whether it be a dog or a horse or a cat. It was her cause to educate people and be a model for the care and welfare of the animal. To Leslie, the animals have priority because of the light that they bring into our lives. It’s our reason to live."
In addition to Charlie, her husband of 32 years, Leslie leaves behind her mother, Janet Carothers, a sister, Marjorie Geiser, as well as a huge community of friends and colleagues.
There will be a celebration of Leslie’s life on Saturday, December 16 at 3:00 pm at Integrity Equestrian Center, 2300 W. Hwy 329 in Citra, Florida.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.