Episode 43: On Horses Healing Humans at an Alternative Prison Ranch & Vulnerability in Memoir with Ginger Gaffney (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 43: Welcome to the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast! In each episode, you’ll hear inspirational stories from horse book authors including writing advice and marketing tips to help you write your own horse book. If you are an author, aspire to be an author, or simply love horse books then you are in the right place!
In this week's episode, you'll meet top-ranked horse trainer and author Ginger Gaffney. You'll learn ...
Watch Ginger Gaffney's Interview on YouTube!
Or listen to the audio only version.
About Author & Horse Trainer Ginger Gaffney
Ginger Gaffney is an author, a horse trainer, and teacher of riding and writing. She has been working with horses and their people for over 25 years. She works with experienced riders as well as anyone who wishes to get close to the power and honesty of the horses. Ginger holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Ginger grew up an extreme introvert, and like many introverts, she felt an early comfort and kinship with animals. Half Broke is written directly from the way she experiences the world around her. Ginger's ability to see, to feel, to witness, and to capture all of this in words – is filtered by the slow process of her body’s awareness. In some way, like the horses themselves.
The intersectionality of horsemanship and human growth remains the most important part of Ginger's work. She wrote Half Broke as a way to hold close the amazing people and horses she's had the chance to work with, and to never forget what they did together.
Once a week Ginger returns to the ranch, just across the river, where Half Broke took place. Working with a new group of residents every few months, they continue to work on the life skills and emotional growth the horses teach them every minute they are together.
Ginger regularly holds horsemanship clinics as well as writing workshops which combine her work with horses and the craft of creative writing. Learn more about Ginger's workshops & clinics.
Ginger Gaffney Podcast Interview Excerpt
Carly: You are an author, a horse trainer, and teacher of riding and writing. You have been working with horses and their people for over 25 years. Tell us how you started your love affair with horses.
Ginger: I always wanted to have a horse, but my family never had the resources. It wasn’t until I went to college when I started riding regularly. But still, that was on borrowed horses and lessons. After graduation I volunteered at a local Quarter Horse barn, and the owner there started teaching me. Eventually she hired me, and she really encouraged me to get into the horse business. She said I was a very natural horsewoman. That was all I needed, one person’s support behind me and I started my long apprenticeship becoming a rider and trainer.
Carly: In your memoir Half Broke, you give us a glimpse into your experience working with troubled horses at an alternative prison ranch in New Mexico, a facility run entirely by the prisoners as well as detailing your growing understanding of your own struggles in life. Tell us about your memoir.
Ginger: This is a book I’ve been working on since 2015, when I went to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico to get my MFA in Creative Writing. It covers the first year and a half when I started at the ranch working with some very difficult horses, and the troubled residents who live on the ranch. I always say, this book is about learning how to fail and get back up. Both for the residents, and for myself.
Carly: Why did you decide to work with these horses and humans at the ranch?
Ginger: There wasn’t much choice. I figured out quickly they couldn’t pay me. I figured out that there was no one on the ranch that knew anything about horses, or very little. And I couldn’t imagine another trainer coming into that situation and wanting to do it. I thought about not doing it, but then I met a horse who was really injured and I had to help with her.
But I think I got hooked by the level of vulnerability that everyone carries around at the ranch. I’d been working and training at a beautiful ranch nearby. Everyone at that ranch had it pretty easy compared to these folks. I figured if I didn’t help, that injured horse would lose its eye or worse. And people would continue to get injured by those horses.
Carly: Why did you choose to write such a personal memoir about your life and experience on the ranch?
Ginger: I didn’t set out to write a personal memoir. I wanted to write about the ranch, the horses, the people there. I thought that was the story. But the more I got into writing the book, the more teachers and editors wanted to know about me. They pulled my story into the ranch story. And in the end, that made the book better, and more honest, more skin in the game as they say.
Read the New York Times Book Review of Half Broke: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/books/review/half-broke-ginger-gaffney.html
Carly: How did you go about writing a memoir?
Ginger: I went to the MFA program to study poetry and by the end of the first week of study I was full out writing these stories about the ranch. They just kept coming. So… that’s how it goes… you have to follow the muse.
Carly: Which hurdles did you personally face when writing so openly about your life and how did you overcome them?
Ginger: I didn’t want to be in the book, but then I would throw out these one liners inside the chapters – but would not follow them up with details. “I don’t want this book to be about me” was my mantra. But it was really just a way to duck and dive away from my own pain, my own history.
I spent some time at different writing workshops, with some great teachers. I went to the workshops to make myself work on the hard parts of my personal stories. I was the writer in the corner, crying myself through the workshop. And that’s not me, I’m not a public crier. But I had opened myself up, and I couldn’t close me down.
Carly: How did horses help you identify areas needing self-improvement while at the same time instilling self-worth in yourself and others?
Ginger: How do any of know why we have chosen horses? Is it really as simple as “I like to ride”? I don’t think so. I think people want to get close to their power, not just to feel powerful…but to feel vulnerable too. I think I needed horse to open me open. Bring me close to myself. To not hide away.
Brene Brown says that before courage there is always vulnerability. Horses do demand courage, but the pathway to that is vulnerability. And once I opened up, I could hear horses and their stories so much better. And that made me better hearing people, and our stories.
Carly: What does the title of your book mean to you and how does it capture the heart of your memoir?
Ginger: Half Broke uses the old language of horse training/horse breaking. So I wanted to work with horse language, even a language we don’t use any more. I knew the title had to have some heft to it. I didn’t want people to look at the cover and think this was going to be a romantic story about horses. Because, that’s not the book you know. And Half Broke, for me that means that there is still a chance for Hope. We are not all the way broken, just partially. We can heal. And also, because those horses were really broken too… but then they healed as well.
Carly: Is there a message in your memoir that you hope readers will grasp?
Ginger: Well, I am hoping there are many messages. But that’s up to the reader where they go, what they hear inside the pages. I never set out to send a message. One dream/hope I have is that in our communities we can have less judgment around addiction. Less shaming. That everyone is someone’s daughter, mother, brother, uncle. We all come from loved ones. Addiction seems to turn people into the unwanted. And maybe this book can help someone get to forgiveness for a loved one they lost or who is caught up in addiction now.
Carly: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors who want to write a memoir?
Ginger: Memoir is hard. You have to be creative, but you have to stay very close to the truth. So basically, you have to re-live/think/experience everything you write. Its hard on the psyche, the gut, your relationships! If you are up for that kind of torture, memoir is for you. Hah!
Don’t censor. Don’t avoid (like me)
Carly: How did you end up working with your publisher? What has it been like?
Ginger: I just don’t have it in me to do all the work of self-publishing. Plus, I’m new to this writing a book thing, and needed guidance. I found my agent at a writing workshop, she is fantastic. She knew nothing about horses but took me on as a literary endeavor. Which is great. Then, when the book was ready, she shopped it in NY.
I received a few interested publishers, but my editor from Norton was my favorite. I got to talk with him about the book for an hour on the phone. And that’s how I knew I wanted to work with him. My agent kept saying “They have to love the book, they have to love it, that’s what you need to listen for”. And he did, he spent the whole hour telling me that in many different ways.
This whole process has been absolutely wonderful. Every step of the way…and there are a lot of steps. I just stayed patient and tried to learn the process. Everyone has been fantastic at W.W. Norton. And I’m not just saying that. It’s true.
Carly: What do you wish you had known when you started out?
Ginger: Take critiques thoughtfully. Be careful, but don’t shut down. Critiques can make the book better, learn how to get good at it. Let the people you trust or admire make your book better. I didn’t know how to do that at first, but I know now. And it is a great thing to learn as a writer.
Carly: How do you reach your readers?
Ginger: I have a publicist at Norton. She did all the heavy lifting. Getting the book out for review, interviews, etc.. I’m taking care of reaching out to the horse community, through shows like this. Through other interviews I’ve done. I’m reaching out to a lot of bloggers, podcasts, radio shows. I like doing interviews better then book signings.
And now all the book stores are closed so my book tour is stalled. I’ll get back to it, but in between. I like being home and working from home on outreach. I’m a very huge introvert so reaching out is not my thing. But I’m making myself do it!
Carly: What is the hardest part about being an author?
Ginger: Like I said, writing memoir is brutal. I’d do it again. Hope to. But it is hard on the writer. The other thing that is hard for me is standing up and reading in front of large or small audiences. I get terrified. I get stomach aches. I’m exhausted when it’s over.
Carly: What is the best part of being a writer?
Ginger: Writing the Story. That’s it. It takes me to a place nothing else can give me. It is like good therapy, I feel like I can really grow when I’m writing.
Carly: What’s next? What are you curious about right now?
Ginger: I have writing projects I am craving to dig into now. And yet I spend about half my day trying to get the word out about this book. So I’m reading a bunch. And I’m reading specifically. I like books that knock at that emotional door, with a lot of physical detail and fight for their lives characters. So I’m reading a lot right now.
Connect with Ginger Gaffney
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Thank you for joining us this week on the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast I hope you enjoy these Q&A sessions with wonderful equine authors who love all things horses and writing just like me.
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About Your Host Carly Kade
Carly Kade is an award-winning independent author, horse owner, creativity coach, and the host of the Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast. She helps fellow writers start, grow, and expand their author careers. Creative writing makes her spurs jingle!
Carly's award-winning In the Reins equestrian romance book series was written with horse lovers in mind, no matter which discipline they ride. The horses are as vital to moving the story forward as the human characters are.
These books are perfect for poolside reading, taking to the beach, or settling down with after a day of horseback riding.
Books by Carly Kade
Carly Kade writes for anyone who loves horses, handsome cowboys and a great romance. Creative writing about horses makes her spurs jingle!