One of the biggest horse-riding events is happening in Oklahoma City this week, the NRHA Futurity.
A well-known California horse trainer is not here, though, because she lost everything in the recent wildfires. Now the community is helping her recover.
“I’ll survive. I’m tough,” says Penni Gerardi, who was preparing for the Futurity when the flames rolled in to her California ranch. She hurried to round up 24 horses, but could only fit 20 in her trailers. She was forced to leave the rest behind to huddle on a tennis court.
By the time firefighters let her return, one horse had died, and her barns had burned.
Her friend Kirstin Booth says, “People that think, why didn’t you get all of your horses out? You don’t have time.”
Kirstin knows from experience. She survived California's wildfires in 2003. That is why she quickly rallied the reining horse community to chip in.
“We, as a family, are trying to pull together and help her rebuild because she lost, essentially, her life’s business.”
The 23 surviving horses were not seriously hurt, but Penni is fighting her way through severe smoke inhalation and the emotional trauma of the experience.
She tells me, “I’m getting better. It’ll all be good.”
In addition to the physical donations collected at the Futurity, Penni's friends have already raised more than $30,000 on a GoFundMe page to get her back on her feet.
“She’s one of our best friends, and the devastation right now in California is overwhelming,” says Lisa Murray, who created the page with her daughter Becca.
Although she is missing the competition this year, Penni is already preparing a great comeback story.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back there,” she says. “I’ll feel like a phoenix rising out of the ashes with my foal that got out of the fire.”
If you would like to help, donations will be accepted at the Main Arena at the State Fairgrounds through Saturday, December 1. To contribute to the GoFundMe campaign, click here.