If you’ve never met Chelsea Secor, just look for the little girl with the big smile and the even bigger dream.

The winner of the Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship, she is determined to ride in the timber race to end all timber races – the Maryland Hunt Cup – one day. And according to Hunt Cup legend D.M. “Mikey” Smithwick, she is off to a good start.

Like many Monkton residents, 13-year-old Chelsea comes by her love of horses naturally. Dad John “J.B.” Secor is a jump jockey-turned-racehorse trainer with blood ties to numerous hunt cup winners. Mom Alex is a floral designer who hails from a long line of foxhunting and polo enthusiasts and certainly knows her way around a horse.

Chelsea started riding “seriously” at age eight, attending the usual horse shows, Pony Club and pony camp. By this time, she’d also demonstrated a unique rapport with one of her dad’s more temperamental stars, a racehorse named D. Guilford. “He was the kind of horse that J.B. wouldn’t even let me lead,” Alex Secor recalls. “But he would put Chelsea, an itty-bitty baby, on his back. This horse was crazy, but he would just settle – he just loved this child, and Chelsea grew up with Guilford. It was quite amazing.”

By age 11, Chelsea was hunting with Elkridge-Harford and developing a preference for speed over tamer pursuits like showing. Unfortunately, her racing debut was delayed by an injury incurred in the hunt field and borne with stoicism beyond her years.

When Chelsea finally rode her first race March 30 at Green Spring Valley, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. She and her 12-year-old mount Shiloh, Lilli Kurtinecz’ outgrown racing pony – got left 20 lengths at the start in the junior large pony race. “She had no idea how to start,” mom Alex explained.

Instead, the race went to Chelsea’s schoolmate Timbrooke Filbert and his mare April Showers. Unfazed, Chelsea turned the tables on her rival the following weekend. “At Shawan Downs, he won and I was second. Then at Elkridge, I won and HE was second,” she related with a grin.

As the season unfolded, Chelsea captured the attention of several respected horsefolk – including top ‘chaser trainer Tom Voss, who helped fine-tune her starting technique. His advice? “Just look at the starter’s eyes and anticipate the start,” she said. “You should also have your horse on the bit, with tight reins; and right when you think he’s going to say ‘go,’ let him go.”