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Rising From the Ashes: Rebuilding from Personal Tragedy

Have you ever experienced a setback you thought was career-ending? That’s what happened on January 18, 2014, when a thunderstorm rolled through one small town. Florida may be renowned for its favorably mild climate year round, but it is also dubbed, “The Lightning Capital of the World” for a good reason.

The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and fronts sweeping in from the Midwest to the South can collide to produce significant storms like the one that struck Holt, Florida. At approximately 4:00 am, lightning hit the main barn at Reichert Performance Horses (RPH) and burned it to the ground, costing the riders all their finished show horses, a brand new VS Flatline colt less than 24-hours old, and all their tack and equipment.

After such heartbreak, it is natural to want to grieve and give up the horse-show dream, to fill the void with something else, but that is not what these dedicated riders did. So how does one recover from the total loss? Three inspirational competitors from RPH shared how they came back.

At first, a person has to take time to process the loss and honor the past, but as an amateur exhibitor, Kerri Davies advises, “You can’t get stuck there.”

Trainer Angie Reichert says that even though calling to tell each of her clients the news was one of the hardest things she’s had to face, the clients rallied around and helped her get through.

Reichert had a stone memorial made outside the property to honor the name of each horse lost and admits that she wanted to quit. Having to start over with a trailer full of green horses for novice riders would be tough, but when her clients told her they wouldn’t go on without her, she decided they would have to start the process of rebuilding, purchasing and training all over again. “When horses run through your veins, you cannot quit,” she asserts.

Davies says she decided she would have to try again with a new horse when she realized she could not bear the thought of life without horses or showing.

The next step in the rebuilding process is to lean on the community. Each competitor credits community support with helping them rebuild. Youth World Champion Maggie Bowers says, “Angie was the backbone that held us all together,” and that one of the things she gained through the tragedy was the love and support of the community and more connections within the industry.

Davies also attests that she could not have done it without Angie. Then, there were the countless other horse people in the Northwest Florida Panhandle who helped provide feed, donate or loan tack, and otherwise assist in immediate recovery efforts, for which all the other Reichert riders were grateful.

A time of restoration can also be the opportunity one needs to dream a new dream or pursue a new goal. Davies fell on further hard times after the fire, losing her new horse in a pasture accident only months later, then having her show career “stop lame” with her third pleasure horse.

Davies always admired the sport of reining, this time deciding that trying something new was the way forward for her. “I always wanted to try it, but lacked the courage to start a new discipline before, so this was the perfect time to go in a new direction and try the ranch and reining.” Davies is pictured here with her “dream horse,” reiner Always Got My Shine On, that she credits with keeping her going after she lost her Marianna, Florida home in 2018 from Hurricane Michael.

Reichert also found motivation in the opportunity to add reining to her repertoire as an all-around trainer. “Multiple Congress, Youth and World Champions later, I thank God every day for my blessings,” Reichert says.

Youth exhibitor Maggie Bowers believes Romans 8:18 sums up their story perfectly: “The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.”

Faith and commitment not only to their dreams but also to each other and their community enabled the Reichert barn to move past tragedy and do what some believed impossible. These riders prove that you should never give up on what you can’t go a day thinking about.

Do you have your own story of recovering from loss or know how to help another rider, trainer, or barn in need? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author: Dara Stanfill is an amateur all-around competitor on the QH, Palomino, and Pinto circuits. She lives and teaches high school English in Baker, Florida.