Westminster-area resident Sally Shirley changed horses in mid-stream last weekend and found she has a rising star on her hands.
At the Charlie Plumb combined training clinic, sponsored by the New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds, Shirley took the 4-year-old mare Jackie along as a replacement for a horse that was not quite ready for a two-day clinic.
Jackie repaid Shirley's faith by working hard and rarely putting a foot wrong during the two days of dressage, cross-country jumping and stadium jumping.
"I bought her right off the track -- she was a racetrack reject," Shirley said. "She was too smart for them and knew she didn't want to race, but she loves to jump."
When Shirley first saw Jackie, she liked the mare's sloping shoulder, large heart girth (which signifies good lung capacity), her length of hip and the fact that Jackie is "built uphill" (her rump is not higher than her shoulder).
"Now that I have had her for a while, I have found out that she has a wonderful temperament," Shirley said. "I didn't know when I first looked at her how sweet and willing she is and how hard she always tries."
Plumb -- advanced United States Equestrian Team rider, winner of the Fair Hill International Event in 1991, and son of eventing great Mike Plumb and Olympic dressage rider Donnan Monk -- is gaining a solid reputation as a teacher and clinician.
"I try to stress organization, control and having good basic riding skills," Plumb said. "These things will ensure that a rider is secure and safe. This is a sport where safety is very important."
During the flat work portion of the clinic, Plumb had Shirley and Jackie work on the mare's canter to make it stronger and more balanced. They also worked on lots of transitions (going from one gait to another). All of this work helped Jackie stay straight and correct when jumping from a canter.
"Charlie told you the truth about organization, control and basics," Shirley said. "He really emphasizes how problems that you have on the flat show up when you are jumping. And he helps you solve your jumping problems with flat work."
During the work over jumps in the riding ring, the dozen or so horses and riders worked in small groups over gymnastic combinations and lines of jumps at the trot and canter. Then it was off to the fields to tackle the inviting cross-country jumps.
"She still looks a little bit [at the jump] when it's one she hasn't seen before, but she is very willing," Shirley said of Jackie's cross-country work. "She got better the more she did."
The clinic definitely lived up to Shirley's expectations. She saw .. an improvement in Jackie during the two days of work with Plumb.
"She improved from yesterday to today," Shirley said. "She listened better and worked better off my leg. This was the right time and the right price for a two-day clinic and it was nice to work in small groups.
"I wanted to come because I heard about Charlie and that he taught much the way his dad does. I knew he wouldn't overface a young horse."
Shirley was surprised that there weren't more horses and riders from Carroll and Howard counties and from the Baltimore area.
"I think people perceive this as being far away and hard to get to, but it isn't. It is a real fast trip here and the roads are great," she said. "And this is a great place to bring a young or inexperienced horse or rider because they are set up perfectly to work at this level."
What are the most important things that Shirley and Jackie learned from Plumb?
"She was exposed to a lot of new jumps she had never seen before and she learned to listen better," Shirley said. "I learned to just keep going. But speed is not a problem with this horse."
Calendar of events
Today -- - Aspiring Heights Horse Show. All English. Westminster. (410) 848-1431.
May 29 -- New Kids 4-H Show. Ag Center, Westminster. (410) 848-3099.
May 29-30 -- Waredaca Farm Horse Trials. Laytonsville. (301) 774-7123.
May 31 -- Memorial Day Races. Fair Hill Race Course. Elkton. (410) 398-8270.
June 1 -- Carroll County Equestrian Council general meeting. 7:30 p.m. East Middle School, Longwell Avenue, Westminster. (410) 833-4593.