The Town Crier spoke with Torie Dye, recently selected by the Los Altos Hills City Council to manage riding operations and programs at Westwind Community Barn. In the following interview, Dye shares her passion for horses, her management style and an update on the barn’s new lower arena.
Q: Describe your first horseback-riding experience.
Dye: When I was 7, my mom read “The Black Stallion” to me and I told her I wanted to ride horses. … I never looked back after the first time I rode.
Q: How did you arrive in the Los Altos Hills area?
Dye: My sisters live up here and I got a job in the area, first at a dressage stable and then at Fremont Hills Country Club.
Q: When did you sign the Westwind management contract?
Dye: I signed the contract Feb. 1 at town hall with the mayor at my side. It took a lot of work to get the contract where we wanted it, but it’s been great to work with the staff at town hall. It’s clear that everybody cares a lot about Westwind and wants it to succeed.
Q: What are the first few things you did after signing the management contract with the town of Los Altos Hills?
Dye: I received keys for first time and simply sat down in the office at Westwind.
I went outside, sat with one of the moms to watch the riders and met some of the children and their ponies.
I spent time talking with riders. They know so much. I’m trying to listen to what they have to say and see if they have any suggestions that would make the barn better.
Q: How has your first week on the job been?
Dye: It’s been great. I’ve been trying to get to know everybody and their horses. … I’ve been meeting with each boarder to learn their needs and trying to really get a feel for existing user groups.
Q: How would you describe your management style?
Dye: I like to put systems in place so that things happen automatically … making a daily, weekly and monthly operation plan. I’ve been working with the stable hands, who have been here a long time. I’m really communicative, open and willing to talk with anybody about what they need. If there is an issue, I’m willing to say, “OK, let me work on that.”
We’re going to have an ad hoc advisory committee made up of a few neighbors and a couple of boarders. … We’re making channels for people to communicate in whichever way feels most comfortable to them. It’s sort of informal. We’ll get together and talk about the barn and bounce ideas off one another.
Q: How will you encourage former Westwind riders to return to the barn?
Dye: When there wasn’t a lesson program, there was really no option. Now that the lesson program has reopened, that in itself should bring people back. Camps are back, and we’re going to have a new website up soon. A new trainer, who is planning to bring in a few horses and offer lessons, just arrived.
I want to make sure that we don’t push out the existing user groups, but at the same time not overtax the facility. I have a relatively big lesson program and it’s important that everyone have space for riding. … It’s good to observe what’s going on before making changes, rather than just going in. … My goal is to work slowly so that we don’t have to back up, just as I would teach someone to ride – start slowly and build a solid base.
Q: How is the lower arena construction going?
Dye: They dug out everything in the arena (base and footing) and they’re trying to get the subbase right so that water will drain correctly. It has a 1 percent downgrade. They’re placing drainage pipes in the base as a security blanket.
Q: Why should potential riders choose to ride at Westwind?
Dye: The main advantages to the way I run my program are:
• Safety is my No. 1 priority. I really value that. It’s important for people to know proper horse-care techniques, especially in a community facility.
• The focus at Westwind is on becoming a well-rounded horse person versus just riding. The children learn how to put the saddle on, how to brush the horse, pick the feet. After lessons, they are responsible for the aftercare. … Being a well-rounded horse person carries many life lessons.
Q: What are three things about you that people would be surprised to learn.
Dye: In 2012, I participated in Extreme Mustang Makeover, a competition to train a 3-year-old mare how to walk, trot and cantor in 90 days. I was a dog groomer for five years. And I really like fish and have fresh and saltwater tanks at home.
For updates on riding lessons, summer camps and birthday parties at Westwind, visit losaltoshills.ca.gov/parks-and-recreation/westwind or losaltoshills.ca.gov/parks-and-recreation/activity-guide.
Torie Dye becomes new Westwind Barn manager - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier