Audrey Griffin was respected as a horsewoman and for living her life to the fullest.
As a writer and photographer for Western Horseman, my horse interests and professional projects often merge. The same can be true of personal vacations that blur into business. I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to get a good story, whether it’s on personal or company time. That was the case during my vacation to California in July of 2018.
My final destination was Tejon Equestrian Center in Lebec, California, where I was entered in the Early Californios Skills of the Rancho. Before that, however, I took a few days to visit some of my favorite places in California: Ventura, Santa Ynez, San Juan Bautista and Carmel.
While I was in Santa Ynez, Western Horseman Account Executive Kami Peterson sent an email recommending Audrey Griffin for our Women of the West section of the magazine. Kami, who was spending the summer in Santa Ynez, had spent a lot of time riding and visiting with Audrey and found her inspiring. Since I was in the area with camera gear, I agreed to meet with Kami and Audrey, and, indeed, Audrey embodied the authenticity and pluck we look for in a candidate for Women of the West.
When I arrived at her home, she was sitting relaxing on a white leather, oversized chair in the living room with her left foot propped up on a matching ottoman. She explained she was recovering from a broken ankle she’d suffered while working cattle. Still, she welcomed us into her home for an interview with her vibrant smile and warm hospitality. She even hobbled to the barn where we helped her saddle her horse for a photo-shoot. Her ankle was swollen enough that she couldn’t put a boot on that foot, but that didn’t stop her from getting on for the first time in six weeks and riding while I photographed her.
At 82 years old, a broken ankle wasn’t going to stop this National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee from seizing an opportunity to share her story, just like I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to listen to it.
Audrey was born into the showbusiness scene of Santa Monica, California. From the time she was a child, however, she was more fascinated with horses than the silver screen. By the time she was a teenager, she had learned how to harness and drive a team of horses hitched to a wagon at Sunset Ranch in Culver City, California, where she spent most of her time. She also become a good rider with the help of her best friend, Sis Smith. In fact, the girls created their own trick-riding act that they performed at rodeos held on the ranch. The experience came in handy when in 1956, at age 19, she was asked to join a Roman riding troupe called the Flying Valkyries and travel to events with them.
During her years of trick riding, Audrey suffered her share of wrecks and injuries, but they never deterred her from riding. As an adult, she went on to compete in events such as reined cow horse, team penning and team roping. She also was a fixture at friends’ brandings. Her next aspiration was to try cutting.
This past July, nearly one year after we interviewed her, Audrey passed away while horseback gathering cattle. Posts of her inspiration and positive influence flooded social media. It was evident that she touched many lives with her kindness, courage and unstoppable spirit. Anyone who knew her, even for a brief moment, can’t help but think from time to time, “I want to live like Audrey.”
Read more about Audrey in the Women of the West section of the October 2019 issue of Western Horseman.