Maureen was born in Sebastopol, California, about an hour north of San Francisco. As her family could not afford to own horses, she found a nearby stable willing to let her work for free.
This small Arabian horse farm was then purchased by new owners who dramatically expanded the facility and it soon became one of the top Arabian show barns in the country. Starting as a groom and working up to assistant trainer, Maureen worked at West Coast Arabians for 8 years, then moved on to work for some of the best performance trainers in Santa Ynez and Texas before ending up back in Northern California. Horses supported Maureen through college in Santa Barbara and at UC Berkeley.
By Maureen Gaffney
While working at Paragon Arabians in Santa Ynez, California as an assistant trainer (this is code for ‘sacrificial rider’), we took in two horses from a new client. They were brother and sister, both by the notoriously hot (and a touch psycho) sire, *Gdansk. I had learned to be a little wary of the owner who brought in a young horse and cheerily proclaimed “Oh yes, she’s broke”. Sometimes they were. Sometimes mom and dad had an interesting interpretation of “broke”. It was time for me to find out on which side of the line “Eulipia” fell.
I grabbed the requisite fistful of strawberry and gray colored mane with my left hand, reins short enough for light contact with her mouth, and placed my foot in the awaiting stirrup. For the previously mentioned reasons, this one made me nervous. With one last full in-and-exhale, I checked her eye to make sure we were still on the same planet, and having been given the proverbial green light, I pushed off. Somewhere during those yawning, eternal 4 seconds before I was firmly ensconced in the saddle, the light in her eye flashed red! red! red! and with my leg at approximately mid-arc over her back, the three-year-old filly with the hot bloodline lost her ever-loving mind.
She bolted--first up--then forward like a sleek hide-and-hair covered cannon ball. Having not yet attained a sitting position much less the second stirrup, I was hurtled onto her neck which only served to further her profound and deepening pool of panic. My attempts at soothing words were hampered not only by the imminence of my impending fall--only the severity of which was now in question--but by the copious amounts of her long silvery hair winding through my molars. My soft-toned pleas of "It's okay honey" she heard as "run for the bay like a bunny" and so we lurched around the arena via the most tenuous of connections for a few more adrenaline-laced moments before she unceremoniously threw me over her head where I landed with a thud in a mushroom cloud of dirt.
Generally speaking, horses--Arabians in particular--do not like to step on foreign objects in their path of travel. In fact, they will go to great ridiculous lengths to avoid even a discolored patch of dirt. A horse that you have finally decided is physically incapable of performing a simple cross-over move will suddenly embark on a 40+ mph supersonic side pass if a shadow or stray bit of hay interrupts his route. For this reason, I was greatly surprised to find the filly placing not one, not two, but three hooves into the small, middle and upper levels of my back. I lay there for some time trying to decide if I was broken. She gingerly approached me, reins and mane all asunder with that "So....um, hey--whatcha' doin' down there?" look on her face.
I was not broken, nor--apparently--was she. She persevered and menaced me further, but via a clever combination of a near starvation diet*, exhaustive pre-ride exercising, and an inventive program called "let the groom ride her", she never managed to unload me again.
Maureen has since hung up her spurs and is now a desk jockey working to plan and implement a long-distance trail around the San Francisco Bay. She enjoys writing, riding (mostly bicycles these days), cooking, wine and friends. Maureen has been published in Horse Illustrated, American Trails Magazine, and Dirt Rag (a mountain bike magazine). She lives in Larkspur, California with her favorite man.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Maureen, and sharing your story of one of those "memorable" horses. I'm sure many of us can relate, and glad that you survived to tell the tale!