Ginger Gaffney’s debut memoir, “Half Broke,” is a memoir about events that take place over a year and a half at a special ranch. Gaffney specializes in training horses and helping owners with their horses.
Gaffney got a call from a ranch that is also a prison. It has been operating in northern New Mexico for 50 years. The ranch needed help because its horses were behaving in a manner that Gaffney had never heard of before: They were acting like a bruising mob – a fleet of four-footed terrors.
“Half Broke” relives the journey taken by Gaffney, the prison residents and the horses. During the course of the book, Gaffney shares not only some of the residents’ stories, but also glimpses of her own past. This memoir highlights the strength of both humans and horses, especially when they come together and help each other heal and grow. This is a remarkable and educational read, especially for horse lovers.
A conversation with Ginger Gaffney:
Q: What was the most difficult part in the publication process?
A: For me, it wasn’t a hard process. I love working with my editor, Tom Mayer from W.W. Norton. He was kind, he was gentle with his suggestions. We had a very easy time communicating because we are both good listeners. Everything about this process was new to me; I had to learn it step by step, not knowing what the next step was or how long it would take. I just fell into it as a process of understanding as I go. It is my first book, and I felt very present for each part of it. (I) tried to enjoy it.
Q: How did you decide to publish your memoir?
A: Most of my writing is poetry. I love poetry. But as I got further into the writing about these events, I realized the power of it was in the first-person narrative, scene by scene. So, I went down that path and quickly knew that these events were best captured in a nonfiction or memoir style.
Q: What characteristics do students display that make you think they can succeed and not go back to lives of addiction and crime?
A: That’s easy: accountability for their every action. No lying. No sneaking. No double standards. They catch themselves in the act of returning to their prison behaviors, or even if they don’t catch themselves and someone else does ... they acknowledge the behavior and start all over again trying to change it. It’s a an up and down, success/failure wave of holding oneself accountable. If they stay accountable, they are definitely on the path of recovery.
Q: Do you still have contact with some of your former students from the prison ranch?
A: Yes. Mostly, we text to stay in touch. Occasionally, I’ll see them. One of them is a good friend, who I stay in touch with regularly. A number of them live in the Albuquerque area, so it’s infrequent when I see them. But we text. They all have the book. About five of them came to my reading at Bookworks in Albuquerque last month.
Q: What do you consider some of your best successes?
A: I don’t think anything I have done at the ranch as my success. We did things together, over a long period of time, and we helped each other through one of the most important times in our lives. And we did that all under the structure of Delancey Street Foundation, which runs the ranch.
Q: Your descriptions of how to read horses is amazing. How did you learn this ability?
A: I’m a watcher and a listener first. And I’ve been that way ever since I can remember. Body language is my first language. The spoken word comes in a far second. In that way, the horses and I have the same language.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for readers who may have problem horses?
A: There is this awful saying in the horse world – there are no problem horses, only problem people. It is such a shaming way to talk. Most of the horse people I know are deeply concerned about their horses, even if the relationship has turned difficult. What I want to offer is a way for horse owners to dive a little deeper into their own fears, struggles, etc., ... bring them up to the surface, face the things they may have buried. I want to allow for that to be supported and worked with, instead of stuffed below the surface.
Q: Do you have any plans for writing further books?
A: In the writing world, I’ve been told write what you love and write what you know. In this book, I did just that. I’m still very interested in the true recovery process, not just the 30-, 60-, 90-day approach, but rather all the grit in between each day that brings recovery alive. I’m working on a new book which starts from a nonfiction place but moves into fiction. There are horses, of course, and many people to cheer for.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.