CHESAPEAKE — For Tori Heck, horseback riding began as a healing process after her older brother died when she was just a child.
“It was kind of like therapy for the whole family,” Tori said.
Two months after she started riding, Tori began competing. She was six years old.
“I got into saddle seat equitation and it’s all about your form and how you control the horse,” she said.
Fourteen years later, the 20-year-old with an associate’s degree in equine studies has been in countless national finals competitions. She was even invited to be on the United States World Cup Invitational Team in 2005 and 2007, in which the U.S. took the gold medal both times.
For now, she has set aside competing to focus on teaching at Saddle Ridge Farms in Chesapeake.
“Ever since I was young and I had gotten into equitation I just knew that I wanted to teach lessons,” Tori said. “I just wanted to be happy doing what I love to do everyday.”
She said she got the inspiration to teach from her own instructors.
“I got a lot of help from Brent Jacobs and Tammy Davore, two trainers that really helped me through my career. They really got me where I am today. What they did for me made me want to do for other people.”
Curt and Marsha Anderson said they were so impressed by Tori that they decided to hire her on at Saddle Ridge Farm. They have owned the horse farm since 1994, but have had a hard time finding the right trainer.
“The horse business is a very difficult business,” said Mr. Anderson. “It’s very difficult to find an honest trainer.”
Mr. Anderson said that Tori approached them three months ago about running a lesson program at the farm. He said that with her background, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“The first time I became truly committed to reopening the farm was two months ago when I saw her show,” said Mr. Anderson. “I think what she’s done is spectacular.”
The farm officially reopened for lessons on Sept. 1 and Tori has already taught several. Lessons at the farm are open to children and adults.
“We really want to teach our kids how to groom, how to tack up, how to really ride and general horse care,” said Tori.
“We teach them how to brush them. We teach them how to get on. And the first thing we usually teach them is how to steer. We teach them where to put their body parts. There are certain positions you have to be in and their legs have to be a certain way. We try to really start that from the beginning. It’s a lot of muscle memory. The more you do it, the quicker they’ll get it.”
She said that in every lesson, There will be at least 35 to 40 minutes or riding, with the rest for grooming and tack. She also said that lessons for beginners with begin as private, one-on-one lessons.
Later, when the rider is more comfortable and confident, they can be introduced into group lessons.
The facility itself is one that Tori said could rival those found in Lexington.
The barn has 40 horse stalls equipped with automatic water troughs. There are currently only 15 horses housed at the farm, with some of the horses retired and living out their golden years.
There is also an indoor riding arena, two tack rooms, and other amenities still under construction.
“We’re working on a lounge that’ll be heated and air-conditioned. And we’ll have TV and Wi-Fi for the parents,” Tori said. The lounge will also have windows to see into the riding arena.
They are also working to get a website up and running.
“It’s a phenomenal place; I’m honored to be working here,” said Tori. “I’m just so excited to really make the program grow and see my riders show and evolve into great riders.”
Saddle Ridge Farm is open Monday through Saturday with lessons offered all day.
“We really try to accommodate the rider and work with their schedule,” Tori said.
Private lessons are $30 for an hour. Group lessons are $25 for an hour. To sign up, call the farm at 740-867-BARN.
“It’s a great thing to get your kid into, to teach responsibility, kids love it,” Said Tori. “It’s a new chapter that I’m so excited to start. Hopefully my riders will be in the World Cup.”