In the author’s note of this fascinating memoir, Ginger Gaffney lets readers know exactly what’s to come. The dialogue is drawn from memory, and yes, she’s made some character composites of the more than 50 residents at the alternative prison ranch where she volunteered during the year and a half the book covers. But some of the most compelling characters here don’t speak in words: They are horses. And in Gaffney’s book, they come alive.
Gaffney has been a horse trainer for more than 20 years. In 2013, she was called to help with a small herd of aggressive horses at an alternative prison ranch near where she lives in New Mexico. In Half Broke, Gaffney alternates reports of her visits to the ranch with flashbacks about her own circuitous path to fulfillment and success.
The ranch’s residents are former addicts and felons; few have any knowledge of livestock. Gaffney focuses on healing—for both humans and horses—and recounts in vivid prose many of their successes. A wary mare named Luna with a dangerous injury finally lets the team close enough to treat her. The inmates slowly gain confidence, and we cheer when troubled Eliza blossoms, or when Randy is motivated to lose enough weight to be able to ride.
Things don’t always go smoothly, and Gaffney doesn’t shy away from setbacks when trouble strikes. But the horses never disappoint—whether it’s loyal Moo, spirited Rootbeer or damaged Luna, willing to trust and give humans another chance. Let’s hope there are more horse stories to come from Gaffney’s talented pen.