Heidi Berry's introduction to horses came when she was 11 years old, living in Westminster and paying a visit to a childhood friend.
Berry's buddy wanted company at her barn, so Berry obliged and became a regular. She cleaned stables and tended to the horses. Berry's love for these animals was born in the barn, and it's into its fifth decade.
Berry went from riding horses in the Carroll County 4-H Club in the early 1970s, led by Bob Shirley, to showcasing her skills in Dressage, to recently becoming a top-flight judge in the United States Equestrian Federation.
"I love it," Berry said. "I love teaching people and I love teaching horses. I believe one of the reasons I still do this is that I had to work so hard for it as a child."
Berry said winning a dressage competition when she was in the Carroll County 4-H Club was "probably what lit my fire" to stay involved with horses for as long as she could. Even when she moved to Northern Virginia and married Russ Berry, and turned her focus to Dressage.
It's a competitive equestrian sport, one that features the horse and its rider performing a series of moves once the pair has properly trained together. It's featured in the Olympics, and it takes a good deal of discipline to master, Berry said.
"Dressage is the foundation of all good riding," she aid via email.
"It takes a minimum of five years to train a horse from the beginning stages through the top level, called Grand Prix. Each horse is different and each approach needs to be custom tailored to the individual horse."
Berry rose through the U.S. Dressage Federation's ranks, earning bronze, silver, and gold medals in various competitions.
Gold medals are only awarded after competing at the highest level and earning high scores.
Judging soon followed - Berry went from being a "learner" to "registered" before earning "senior" status last year based on her years of experience and training.
Berry judges all levels of competition at recognized Dressage shows, which means traveling around the country during the year.
"The challenge of figuring out a horse's mind and a rider's abilities and temperament, and helping the two come together in a systematic and successful partnership, is a rewarding part of teaching," she said via email.
"Helping each horse develop their physique and mental understanding makes training the horse very rewarding."
Berry teaches a wide range of students, from ages 10 to 75, and molds them into successful competitors.
But she finds time to stay involved with competing too.
On April 5, Berry rode B'Gilded and earned second- and third-place ribbons at a Virginia Dressage Association event.
B'Gilded competed last year at an entry level, but under Berry's tutelage the horse finished at the year-end USDF awards under the American Warmblood Registry.
"Riding competitively is not for the faint-hearted," Berry said via email.
"To properly develop a horse's fitness to do the required work means motivating yourself to get out to the barn, tack up, and ride even when it's rainy, windy, or cold. No wimps allowed!"
The Berrys live in Philamont, Va., in Loudoun County, so it's not too far for them to pay Heidi's parents a visit in Westminster. And the family gets to see all the places with she used to ride her horses.
Russ Berry laughs when he thinks of his sons, Seth and Beto, asking their mother which parts of Westminster she hasn't ridden across on horseback.
"Both us of believe that for anyone, if you follow your passion you're always going to be enjoying it. It's never like work then," he said.
"She's made it into a business. They'll have to carry her out one day before she stops."