Former Paly student dies from polo horse fall

Ariel Shaker, an artist, environmentalist and avid horse enthusiast dies from fall while exercising a Harvard polo team horse

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 .


Posted by inshock, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 9, 2009 at 2:41 am

2006, not 2005. this is terrible...ariel was an amazing human being. she will live on in our memories

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2009 at 5:41 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 6:40 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

We have been chatting with our daughter about this who was a classmate of hers. This particular class at Paly has lost too many classmates, and is another sad ripple in their community. I have been struck by this loss just feeling the loss Becky is feeling. My condolences to the family for their loss of such an amazing young person.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 9, 2009 at 9:13 am

There's a reason for everything? I can't figure this one out. How sad.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 9, 2009 at 10:21 am

Sorry for the families loss, Ariel sounds like a bright and gifted individual.

I worked at Heavenly Ski Resort for a few years and every year in the ski community there would be fatalities from head trauma. That and being an avid cyclist emphasized the importance of wearing helmets.

Posted by Gunn rowing parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 11:28 am

My condolences to the family and Paly community.
Slight clarification. Paly does not have a school crew team. Ariel may have rowed for the Palo Alto Rowing Club which is not affiliated with Paly. I believe she then switched to the Oakland Strokes junior team before rowing at Harvard.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Riders don't normally wear "helmets" they wear hats. A helmet would interfere with your peripheral vision. That said, those hats have never struck me as being all that protective.

She had a freak out-of-control fall from the sounds of it and landed the wrong way. Second-guessing with "if only"s is natural, but doesn't amount to much. You can wear a nice big helmet and still break your neck and bleed to death.

A tragic accident, I'm so sorry for the family.

Posted by Deborah Goldeen, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 9:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Brian Guth-Pasta, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2009 at 11:35 pm

I was on the soccer team with Coach Shaker and his son for many years in AYSO. My heart goes out to the family.

Posted by Rower, a resident of Duveneck School
on Oct 10, 2009 at 11:27 am

Paly did have a rowing team which then was kicked out of the program. She was on NorCal though and switched over to Oakland Strokes to be on the national team. What a great girl!

Posted by Karen and Rob Schreiber, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm

We are so sorry for your loss.

Posted by Christian Straight, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 10, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Ariel touched our lives, myself and my daughter's, this summer when we had the pleasure of having her as a babysitter. What a wonderful young human being - full of life and smiles. Such a terrible loss.

Posted by J, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2009 at 11:33 pm

I am so sorry for your lost. God Bless her!!

Posted by Apple, a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2009 at 6:44 am

Ariel was a lovely young woman living her dreams. Our deepest sympathies to her family and friends. Harvard '10 parents.

Posted by Saundra Lyon-Reiser, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2009 at 5:21 pm

It was such an honor to have known Ariel. She filled so many of us that knew her with her special spirit...she will be missed terribly. My heart will hold her always...............

Posted by Roxanne Pinto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2013 at 2:19 am

3 years after college graduation, I still miss Ariel and she's been on my mind a lot lately. October is a tough month for Play class of 06, and the loss of Ariel is particularly painful. I still miss Ariel, she will always be an inspiration. Keeping the Shakers in my thoughts this month.

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Gourmet hot dogs, sausage food truck coming to the Peninsula
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 2,691 views

Allowing Unauthorized Immigrants to Learn and Earn Legally Will Help the Economy
By Steve Levy | 31 comments | 2,132 views

College applications: round three
By Sally Torbey | 24 comments | 1,597 views

Is HBO's Silicon Valley Any Good?
By Anita Felicelli | 14 comments | 1,550 views

PAUSD Leadership Challenges
By Paul Losch | 14 comments | 1,091 views