Ariel Shaker, a 2006 graduate of Palo Alto High School and a horse enthusiast since she was 8, was pronounced dead Wednesday night from injuries from a "freak" accident while exercising a horse for the Harvard University polo team Oct. 1.
Shaker, 21, in her senior year at Harvard, had just made the team a month ago. She was in Harvard's visual and environmental studies program, and was known for her bold painting style.
According to news reports, on Thursday, Oct. 1, Shaker and two teammates had traveled to Ipswich to exercise horses for the team at a stables there.
But the horse she was riding suddenly bucked, possibly spooked by something, and fell, landing on Shaker and causing severe head trauma. She was taken to Boston Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 9:42 p.m. Wednesday. She had not been wearing a riding helmet, according to police.
"It's just a complete freak mystery,'' Harvard polo coach, Crocker Snow Jr. of Ipswich, director of the Murrow Center at Tufts University's Fletcher School, said of the fall.
"There are some unpredictable horses, and this wasn't one. And there are some riders who are in over their head, and she wasn't one,'' he said. He and his wife, Cissie, who coaches the women's polo team, were instantly struck by Shaker's athletic ability and love for horses, Snow said.
As it became clear that Shaker would not recover, she was maintained on life support while arrangements were made for organ donations, and Harvard officials and students recognized the inevitable as family members gathered.
Her father, Douglas Shaker of Palo Alto, was contacted in Boston by the Boston Globe and was quoted as saying his daughter planned to be involved with horses all her life.
"She was athletic, competitive, intelligent, articulate, sociable. She was exceptional in a lot of ways," the Globe quoted Shaker as saying.
While at Paly, Shaker was a member of the rowing team, and had a strong interest in athletics, English and journalism, writing numerous articles on a range of subjects for the Campanile student newspaper.
"She was one of these kids who always did more than you expected -- she just exceeded expectations," her journalism teacher, Esther Wojcicki, told the Weekly Thursday evening.
"She was always very well liked, and very caring. This is so sad because she was such a talented girl, and it sounds like it was just a fluke. It looks like the horse got spooked," Wojcicki said from information she has seen. "It's not that she was a risk-taker. She was sensible.
"And she was very people oriented," she said.
Wojcicki said Shaker also was involved in the Paly rowing team, and that many of her articles reflected her athletic interests. Prior to joining the Harvard polo team, she had been on the Harvard rowing team.
Shaker had been home-schooled in the upper elementary grades, and horses were an incentive to finish her daily studies. Then she would beg to be taken out to ride horses at the Stanford Barn, a favorite childhood spot, her father was quoted as saying.
The Globe covered a gathering of friends at Harvard, who reminisced about Shaker and what she meant to them.
"I've never met anyone who cared so much about the people around her,'' senior Lihlani Skipper was quoted as saying.
Each week, Shaker baked bread and invited classmates to meet for fresh bread and togetherness, her friends recalled.
"Ariel loved people, and she loved bringing us together,'' the Globe quoted senior Anne Washburn as saying. "She brought us together when she was here, and now she's bringing us together when she's not.''
The Harvard Crimson student newspaper quoted roommates as saying Shaker loved talking, writing, literature, and spending time with people.
"Friends said that the passionate way she approached life -- from her selflessness in her friendships to her love for Bob Dylan and the outdoors -- left a mark on those around her," the Crimson reported.
"When I think of her, the word passion comes to mind," her residence House Master Jay M. Harris said of Shaker. "She was creative, imaginative, and threw herself into everything she did."
In an e-mail to students Monday afternoon, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds cited the words of Shaker's college interviewer to describe her personality.
"She is easily the most personable applicant I've interviewed in my years of interviewing for Harvard," the interviewer wrote. "She is well spoken, poised, engaging, sharp and witty. I'd be shocked if she isn't a real leader among her peers."
In late September, a Harvard website characterized her thus: "Although Ariel would probably rather be riding her horses in California than cracking textbooks in Cambridge, that hasn't stopped her from from pursuing a secondary in English on top of her VES (visual and environmental studies) work, and as she enters her senior year, Ariel seems just as committed to continuing to bring fun, quirky study breaks to Cabot House (her residence)."
Shaker was asked about her interest in the environment, and replied: "How could someone not be interested in the environment, at least to some degree?
"The world we live in is a beautiful, fun-filled, well-equipped planet, and I want to make sure it stays that way both for the rest of my life and for future generations!"
In addition to her father, Shaker is survived by her mother, Teresa Feiock, and a brother, Isaac Shaker, all of Palo Alto.
The full Boston Globe story is at http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/10/by_jack_nicas_g_1.html .