Cover image for Half broke : a memoir
Half broke : a memoir
First edition.
Physical Description:
247 pages ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
"An alternative prison ranch in New Mexico conducts a daring experiment: setting the troubled residents out to retrain an aggressive herd of horses. The horses and prisoners both arrive at the ranch broken in one way or many- the horses often abandoned and suspicious, the residents, some battling drug and alcohol addiction, emotionally, physically, and financially shattered. Ginger Gaffney's job is to retrain the untrainable. With time, the horses and residents form a profound bond, and teach each other patience, control, and trust. As Gaffney peels away the layers of her own story- a solitary childhood, painful introversion, and a transformative connection with her first horse, a filly named Belle- she, too, learns to trust people as much as she trusts horses. Half Broke is a resonant memoir with a spirited, memorable cast that describes the fascinating ways both horses and humans seek relationships to survive"--


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Book 798.2 GAF 0 1

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At the start of this remarkable story of recovery, healing, and redemption, Ginger Gaffney answers a call to help retrain the troubled horses at an alternative prison ranch in New Mexico, a facility run entirely by the prisoners. The horses are scavenging through the dumpsters, kicking and running down the residents when they bring the trash out after meals. One horse is severely injured.The horses and residents arrive at the ranch broken in one way or many: the horses are defensive and terrified, while the residents, some battling drug and alcohol addictions, are emotionally and physically shattered. With deep insight into how animals and humans communicate through posture, body language, and honesty of spirit, Gaffney walks us through her struggle to train the untrainable.Gaffney peels away the layers of her own story--a solitary childhood, painful introversion, and a transformative connection with her first horse, a filly named Belle--and she, too, learns to trust people as much as she trusts horses. As her year-long odyssey builds toward a dramatic conclusion, the group experiences triumphs and failures, brave recoveries and relapses, as well as betrayals and moving stories of trust and belonging.Resonant, smart, and beautifully written, Half Broke tears at the heart of what it takes to find wholeness after years of trauma and addiction and offers profound insight on how working with animals can satisfy our universal need for connection.

Author Notes

Ginger Gaffney is a top-ranked horse trainer. She received an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and her work has been published in Tin House and Utne Reader. She lives in Velarde, New Mexico.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this powerful debut, horse trainer Gaffney shares stories of her 18-month stint at an alternative prison ranch in northern New Mexico, which she spent teaching its residents how to work with troubled horses. The residents, felons who suffer from drug and alcohol addictions, are intimidated at first by the seemingly feral animals--"giant gods with dominion over all things." Believing "horses mirror their owners," Gaffney realizes that the residents have been "beaten down by poverty... by the prison system" and are "unknowingly communicating their pain to the horses." She begins with basics, telling the residents that, "If you want these horses to respect you, you have to respect yourself." Reflecting on her own extreme introversion, Gaffney describes how Bella, her first horse, shifted her focus outside herself, a technique the residents learn in their own horse training. Strong bonds develop between trainer, horses, and residents (success is measured by how well the residents and horses cooperate with one another), until an illicit drug cache is discovered in the barn. Half the team is subsequently kicked off the ranch, but Gaffney continues to work hard with the remaining residents. The narrative culminates in a community-wide fund-raiser showcasing the trained horses that are then sold--an event that brings attention to the program. Gaffney's story will delight horse lovers, and her anxieties as an introvert will broaden the appeal of this passionate memoir. (Feb.)

Kirkus Review

An engaging debut memoir about the rehabilitation of damaged horsesand humans.The Delancey Street Foundation's New Mexico ranch is an alternative prison facility where drug offenders can serve out their sentences. Gaffney, a horse trainer and riding instructor, has volunteered at the ranch since 2013. It initially presented "the most dangerous horse situation I had ever encountered," she recalls: The herd had gone feral, raiding dumpsters and threatening their keepers. Two mares, including Luna, who had an infected facial injury, were still on the loose. The author believed that livestock team members like Tony, an ex-junkie with anger issues, and Sarah, a former addict and prostitute who'd survived multiple near-fatal attacks, were "unknowingly communicating their pain to the horses." Gaffney's first task, then, was to teach the inmates to walk with confidence. Horses "keep us present, keen, concentrating," she writes. They help Randy conquer his fears and Eliza snap out of her depression. Former addictions remain strong temptations for these residents, though. In a major setback, Gaffney found a stash of drugs and condoms under the barn floorboards, and most of the livestock team got kicked off the ranch. Sharp descriptions bring the book's human and equine characters to life while present-tense narration animates vivid vignettes: rescuing one horse from a septic field and training another in a 100-day Santa Fe Horse Shelter competition. The book shifts easily between the ranch storyline and the author's history of extreme introversion and fraught lesbian relationships. The first horse she owned, high-strung Belle, "hinged the broken parts of me back together," as did her long-term partner, Glenda. This 1990s-set strand feels less essential, but it helps build a solid trajectory of recovery as Gaffney, like the ranch's residents and horses, changes "into a softer creatureone who can finally trust others and feel like she belongs."A heartening story of healing and interspecies connection. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

As recent news stories have shown, the bond between human and horse can be supremely healing, something top-ranked horse trainer Gaffney proves handily with her work at an alternative prison ranch in New Mexico. There, she brings together residents--often addicted, certainly broken physically and emotionally--with aggressive, sometimes abused or abandoned horses, to teach them both trust.