Rodeo Queen Candidate Chasing New Dreams on Horseback

“My goal in life is to show that people who are blind can achieve their dreams,” states Tori Ortiz, the VTC Enterprises Elks Rodeo Queen Candidate for 2024. Tori was introduced to agriculture through the Warrior Goat program at Righetti High School, where she is currently a senior set to graduate in June.

Tori has big dreams. She sees the world differently than most. Tori was born with optic nerve hypoplasia which caused blindness from birth. “Even though I have no vision, it has never stopped me from seeing the world,” explains Tori.


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Warrior Goat Program Ignited Tori’s Dreams

Tori’s math teacher invited her to check out The Warrior Goat program. She took the program by the horns. She excelled in breeding a grand champion goat and topped the intermediate  showmanship class last year.

The Warrior Goat program connects students with disabilities to a mentor to learn the skills for raising and showing goats at the Santa Barbara County Fair, at no cost to them. In July 2023, Tori won grand champion goat and was top of her class in intermediate showmanship with her own breeding doe, Pearl.

This Connection to Agriculture Leads to New Dreams on Horseback

All smiles – VTC rodeo queen candidate, Tori Ortiz, rides Pointsettia Park (“Spud”) a 13-year-old retired racehorse, guided by Healing Heroes Executive Director, Simon d’Unienville 

“This is what happened!” exclaimed Tori with a smile and a laugh. regarding the a chance to explore horseback riding as offshoot of her connection to agriculture. Tori enjoyed grooming, leading, and riding “Spud” a retired racehorse who ran with 48 starts as Pointsettia Park. This gentle guy teaches horsemanship skills to the Veterans going through the Elite Vocations horsemanship program. Simon and Yvette d’Unienville of Healing Heros Through Horsemanship were on hand to guide and assist Tori with grooming, riding and leading Spud.

Grooming, Riding and Leading Spud

VTC rodeo queen candidate Tori Ortiz grooms retired racehorse Pointsettia Park (“Spud”) to prepare for her ride, assisted by Healing Heroes’ Executive Director, Simon d’Unienville 

Tori worked with Simon on grooming Spud and getting him ready for his ride. Simon tacked up with Western tack, then we all walked down to the round pen where Tori mounted Spud with assistance from a mounting block. Simon kept Spud on a loose line to help guide him where needed as she is 100% visually impaired. 

After riding, Tori led Spud (mostly unassisted except for a few direction pointers from Yvette) around the round pen. She then walked him back to the barn, with Yvette just guiding her direction, steps etc. Tori helped untack Spud and led him back to his walkout stall where she spent some quality time with him and his barn mate, Beignet.

“It was a wonderful experience,” relayed Tori after her session with Spud. “I’ve never met a horse like Spud – so calm and relaxed. He gave me kisses and I got to brush out his mane.

Tori’s Future Dreams Now Include Horses

Tori is looking forward to going to Community College then transferring to Cal Poly to study Animal Science. She dreams of breeding livestock. “I’ll breed goats for sure and now I want to breed horses to create another Spud! I may breed cattle and pigs too,” explains Tori.

First Step Is Being a Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Queen Candidate

Tori shares a special moment with retired racehorses Beignet (French Getaway) and Spud (Pointsettia Park). Both horses are available for adoption.  

VTC Enterprises chose Tori as their 2024 Elks Rodeo Queen candidate. In taking on the role of candidate Tori gets her inspiration from her mother as she once dreamed of being the Elks Rodeo Queen. VTC Enterprises specializes in helping adults with developmental disabilities grow their job skills.

The Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Queen is chosen by the amount of fundraising a candidate brings in. The candidate bringing in the most money to the organization they represent is crowned queen. Regarding her campaign Tori relates, “My biggest hurdle was managing school, the campaign and life.”

When asked if she’ll be riding a horse at the rodeo Tori laughed and said, “I don’t want to get bucked off!”

Last Days of Fundraising

Monday, May 27, 2024 will be Tori’s last fundraising event ahead of the weekend rodeo: Santa Maria Elks Rodeo May 30 – June 2, 2024. The fundraiser is a dinner with a reverse drawing for raffle prizes such as a NEW CAR! Tickets are $100 for two dinners. Come out and support Tori in her last fundraiser and see her smile at the Rodeo. Tickets are available through links just above.

Tori has worked really hard with her team to raise funds for VTC’s programs. Win or lose they are all so proud of her work ethic, determination and fearlessness. 


Photo Credit: Sofia Boss


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