A History of the MARYLAND COMBINED TRAINING ASSOCIATION
Ruth Frey, 1996
Updated by Linda Reynolds and Leslie Bertram, 2007 and by Ruth Frey, 2011
In the late 1960s and early 70s American eventing was in the earliest stages of the journey from its origin as an exclusively military activity to the popular civilian sport that it has become today. Even so, Willis Lynch, Director of Riding at McDonogh School—then an all-male military academy—considered it an ideal competitive outlet for his students. (One of those students, a boarder from Massachusetts who would go on to become the twice-crowned world champion three-day rider, was Bruce Davidson, Sr.) There was a major problem though. The nearest regularly scheduled events at the time—Loudoun in northern Virginia, Radnor in southeastern Pennsylvania, Middletown in Delaware—all entailed a two-hundred-mile round trip from the school's location northwest of Baltimore. This prompted local businessman Charles ("Bucky") Laubach, a McDonogh alumnus whose son John was then a day student and avid rider, to consider ways to generate more eventing activity closer to home. Bucky shared his concern with Mary Lynch (now Simmers), Willis' daughter who had recently completed her own schooling and begun helping her father with the McDonogh riding program. Together they came up with the idea of an organization with a three-fold purpose: to put on combined training competitions in central Maryland, to hold clinics and informational programs to provide knowledgeable competitors volunteers, and spectators for those events, and to help and encourage others to sponsor similar activities.
Thus the Maryland Combined Training Association was officially founded on February 3, 1972 at a meeting in Elderkin Hall on the McDonogh campus. The thirty-nine people in attendance represented nearly all the strains of interest in combined training in the United States at that time. There were both juniors and adults from several branches of the U.S. Pony Clubs, whose rallies and testing were then focused exclusively on combined training. There were a number of people holding British Horse Society credentials, several of whom taught at Baltimore area schools with riding programs. (The idea of horse trials as a civilian sport had progressed considerably further in Britain than in her former colonies, and combined training formed the basis of BHS instruction at that time.) There were Baltimore-based members of the International Equestrian Organization, the country's oldest dressage association centered around nearby York, PA, and a representative from the Philadelphia-area Delaware Valley Combined Training Association which predated MCTA by a few years. Virtually all the central Marylanders with upper level eventing experience at the time—Dick Montali, Ann McKay, Linda Green (now Cooper)—were there, as were several people whose enthusiasm for combined training so far came entirely from reading about it in books. There were recent McDonogh graduates anxious to support the sport Willis Lynch had taught them, the family business of one of whom—Bob Smyth—still supplies MCTA with trophies. Fittingly the military origins of eventing were represented by A.B. deSzinay ("Capt. Andy"), a former officer in the Hungarian cavalry who had immigrated to Maryland from Europe's post-World War II displaced persons camps, and by Talbert ("Jock") Dett, an African-American from Reisterstown who had been among the last enlisted men to receive training at the fabled Fort Riley, Kansas headquarters of the U.S. Cavalry.
After approving a constitution and by-laws and then electing Bucky Laubach president, Dick Montali vice-president, John Laubach and Nancy Knapp junior vice-presidents, Mary Lynch secretary, and Jack Vordemberge—another McDonogh graduate then working in his family's tack shop business—treasurer at a second meeting three weeks later, the fledgling MCTA set up a committee on clinics and a committee on competitions and immediately set to work. Since most potential eventers in central Maryland in the early 1970s were already familiar with jumping and cross-country riding from fox hunting, hunt racing, hunter trials, and horse shows—which then had outside courses on rolling ground over solid fences—the clinics committee concentrated on elementary dressage instruction and programs to explain the basic ideas and rules of combined training. They began with local talent: Capt. Andy, designated the association's technical advisor by President Laubach, did many seminar-type programs together with those members already actively competing while Dick Montali, a research veterinarian then working on a fellowship at Johns Hopkins and his wife Patti, assistant to the BHS-certified riding instructor at Oldfields School, gave evening dressage lessons in McDonogh's indoor ring for $5 a session.
To kick off its second year, however, MCTA held a weekend clinic at both McDonogh and Garrison Forest Schools (oversubscribed and packed with auditors) featuring lectures, films and group instruction from Jack LeGoff, Mike Plumb, and Bruce Davidson—the coach and half of the team that had brought the three-day silver medal home to the U.S. from the Munich Olympics the previous summer. Throughout its history MCTA has continued this two-pronged approach to educational activities. Many local competitors, instructors, and equine professionals have shared their expertise in panels, seminars, novice clinics, and other such programs over the years, while the organization still tries to bring in nationally and internationally known eventers periodically for more formal clinics and cross-country schools. It also considers its newsletter and, more recently, its website and booth at the annual Horse Expo at the state fair grounds to be key means of spreading information about combined training in Maryland.
In 1976 MCTA's third president, physician and medical educator George Roveti, proposed a scholarship program to help the organization's hard-working volunteers participate in its own clinics and other opportunities to continue their equestrian education. Initially this program was spearheaded by the directors of riding at the same Baltimore-area "riding" schools that often provided facilities and personnel for MCTA's educational activities—St. Timothy's, Oldfields, Garrison Forest, and Goucher College. It was later named as a memorial to Joan Barthel, a member of its selection committee, long-time hospitality provider for the Jackson's Hole event, wife of that competition's 1979-81 organizer, and co-landowner of the area where dressage was held. By the time of its twenty-fifth anniversary, MCTA had awarded scholarships to sixty different members.
While the original clinics committee was setting up a variety of educational activities in 1972, the competition committee was concentrating on MCTA's first horse trial. This was an unrecognized event held on Sunday, June 18th at Mr. and Mrs. Richard N. Jackson's immaculately maintained Jackson's Hole Farm in Upperco which had already been the site of a Pony Club rally and was frequently a fixture for the Green Spring Valley Hounds—which Sheila Jackson then served as joint-master. With Sheila's never ceasing physical and financial support, MCTA continued to hold its major competition at Jackson's Hole for a total of thirty-one years. Although always actually designated the "MCTA Horse Trials," everyone in the East knew it as "Jackson's Hole." (For awhile the "real" Jackson's Hole in Wyoming complicated things slightly by holding horse trials with that official title.)
Reflecting the importance of Pony Club and the local schools with riding programs, all but nine of the forty-two Training level entrants at MCTA's first competition were juniors, as were more than half of the Novice entrants. All paid a $10 entry fee. To encourage riders in the strange new first phase of eventing, four ribbons were awarded separately for dressage as well as eight overall. That first Jackson's Hole was very much a joint effort, but it was headed by organizers Ann McKay—introduced to combined training while teaching riding in Vermont for Reed and Essie Perkins (parents of later top eventers Beth Perkins and Bea Perkins deGrazia) and Jill French—a native of England and BHSI then teaching, competing, and coaching her son John (now a leading hunter-jumper professional in California).
Encouraged by the success of its first event, MCTA scheduled another for October of 1972 and was granted USCTA (now USEA) recognition. A fall Jackson's Hole was also scheduled in 1973 but volunteer burn-out caused its cancellation and the decision to make MCTA's "big" event annual instead of semi-annual. It soon replaced the Novice division with Preliminary and in 1979 became an "official" event—a status then awarded by USCTA to competitions that consistently exceeded basic standards. In 1982 when Sherlock ("Shockey") Gillet took over as organizer Jackson's Hole pioneered the idea of "limited' (now "restricted") senior divisions to separate riders with upper level and international experience from those less experienced. For many years it served as an Area II Young Riders team selection trial, and also was an early testing ground for the now universal practice of doing away with penalty zones around cross- country fences.
In 2003 the MCTA Horse Trials bid a fond farewell to Jackson's Hole Farm and moved to Shawan Downs, a 200-acre facility just west of Interstate 83 and Hunt Valley. This beautiful rolling property had been in danger of becoming a residential development when in 2000 a group of determined horsemen—including MCTA's horse trials organizer Shockey Gillet and many-year treasurer Joan Hoblitzell—bought it and set about creating a first class steeplechase racing venue and site for other top quality equestrian events. The 2003 horse trial was the first non-racing event to be held there. The Novice level was restored immediately, and in 2006 Intermediate and Advanced levels were added. Entries quickly leaped from around 175 to the 500 range. From the beginning the fences were superbly built by Dave Wisner (father of several of MCTA's most accomplished junior riders) and his K & L Contracting, then beautifully enhanced by top level eventer and landscape architect Walter Reynolds' creative course decorating. As a result competitors and spectators alike are frequently heard exclaiming "This looks just like Rolex!" And in 2007 MCTA did host an FEI-sanctioned CIC*** at Shawan Downs. Original Shawan Downs course designer David O'Connor has been replaced by Tremaine Cooper (assisted by Jeff Kibbe for the lower levels) while Eric Bull has taken over the bulk of the building, but despite assorted bumps in its road the event continues unabated. It is now one of the two or three longest continuously running horse trials in the whole country.
Returning to earlier times, MCTA held two other competitions besides the Jackson's Hole events in its maiden year. Both have also continued, though in varying forms and at varying places, to the present. In mid-summer, in an attempt to entice jumper riders to try combined training, a "dressage and jumping show" was held on the football fields (!) at McDonogh. Organized by Ron Scornavacca, a Baltimore dentist who had participated in both Margaret Cabell Self's Junior Essex Troop and Pony Club as a junior in his native New Jersey and who was then still active as a Pony Club examiner, this was really a combined test that also had separate classes for dressage and jumping. The latter were typical of open jumping classes in the early 70s—six bars, touch and out, etc.—and awarded prize money to encourage participation by non-eventers. (It was won mostly by the eventers though!) After a repeat performance in 1973, no organizer could be found for 1974.
The summer competition was revived in 1975 at Sallie ("Petey") Robertson's Ship's Quarters Farm in Westminster. The combined tests and separate dressage classes remained, but special horsemanship classes replaced the jumper-style ones. Ridden over a stadium course but judged on the rider, these were scored like a dressage test with points from one to ten and comments for the entry, each obstacle, and a series of general impressions at the end. The classes were conceived by co-organizers Jane Neilson and Ruth Frey as an attempt to make eventers more aware of the fact that even though jumping style and correct mechanics don't count as such in their sport, they are nevertheless essential for long-term success.
MCTA's summer competition followed this 1975 format for over a decade, despite a move to the Green Spring Valley Hounds show grounds in Glyndon in 1980. The horsemanship classes were replaced with a below-Novice starter horse trial in 1987 during a one-time appearance at the Howard County Hounds show grounds, and a summer starter horse trial has been held ever since. For awhile, as the competition moved to Goucher College in Towson, Olney Farm in Joppa, Silverdale Farm in Parkton, and Rosaryville State Park in Upper Marlboro combined tests and/or separate dressage classes continued to be held in some years. However, since moving to Glennwood Farm in Upper Marlboro in 2006 and then to Tranquillity Manor in Monkton in 2010 MCTA's summer competition has been exclusively devoted to three-phase horse trials at and below the Novice level. As starter events they have often been preceded by introductory clinics, both mounted and unmounted, and cross country schools. Several have featured hilarious how-not-to-do-it demonstrations complete with standing martingales, colorful polo wraps, untamed (human) hair, pear-shaped circles, and failure to go through the finish flags.
To return to the beginning once more, the other continuing fixture in MCTA's schedule that was begun in its first year is the fall "Jenny Camp" event. At first it was intended as a lower level competition to introduce juniors to the idea of horse trials, but a number of adults who had been volunteering steadily for the new organization wanted to try eventing but didn't feel up to the then-2'9" entry level Novice division so they requested that they be given a section in the fall competition too. Briefly in the 1960s before it got the name "Novice" USCTA's entry-level division had been known as the Jenny Camp division, and that name was applied to this adult section. Within a few years the name was being used for the whole event. (The original Jenny Camp remains the most successful U.S. horse in Olympic three-day competition. A cavalry mount, she carried Capt. Earl Thompson to the team gold and individual silver medals in 1932 and again to the individual silver in 1936.) Like so much of MCTA's history, the Jenny Camp event began at McDonogh—even though a major storm had washed out much of the school's cross country course the previous June, requiring extensive pre-event repairs and rerouting.
After repeating at McDonogh in 1973 the Jenny Camp moved to fox hunter and timber race rider/trainer Tiger Bennett's farm in Monkton for 1974 and then to Paradise Farm in Timonium for 1975 and '76. There intrepid MCTA volunteers built a whole new lower level cross country course from scratch to go with the lesson and boarding barn's already existing ring and stadium jumps. From 1977 through 1988 Jenny Camp found a more permanent home on Green Road in Glyndon at what was first Joan Hoblitzell's Tuckahoe Farm and then, after being purchased by Shockey and Iva Gillet, became Hunting Ridge Farm. After an interim year at Ami and Bill Howard's Olney Farm in Joppa it next moved to St. Timothy's School in Stevenson for most of the 1990s. When that venue, like the Paradise site before it, became unavailable due to development Jenny Camp moved to its present home at Tranquillity Manor in Monkton. In recent years it has incorporated the Maryland Interschool Horse Trials, a contest among local private schools with riding programs that actually predates MCTA. Although it might be hard to verify, MCTA's Jenny Camp event is quite possibly the oldest continuously held unrecognized event in the country.
In its early years MCTA held several other competitions, including an all-junior horse trial at McDonogh in the spring of 1973 (largely organized and run by juniors too). Open lower level horse trials were also held at the Jenny Camp's Paradise Farm venue in the spring of 1975 and 1976. However, putting on such events in the same season as Jackson's Hole ultimately proved too much for MCTA's membership, which has ranged between two and four hundred-plus since the mid-1970s. Beginning as part of the big LeGoff/Plumb/Davidson clinic in 1973, MCTA did, however, organize a season-opening indoor dressage schooling show in late March or early April up until 1987. First held at Garrison Forest School, then for a year at Spring Hill Horse Center in Bel Air and for two years at the Columbia Horse Center, the final show was scheduled to include clear round jumping back at McDonogh but had to be cancelled due to icy roads. With the formation of the Maryland Dressage Association in the north central part of the state in the early 1980s, together with the expansion of the long-established Potomac Valley Dressage Association throughout the Maryland suburbs of Washington, MCTA's own dressage schooling show became unnecessary since its members often belonged to these groups too—or at least competed at their many schooling shows.
There is one other competition that became an integral part of MCTA's history even though it was never primarily an MCTA event. What was usually referred to just as "Gladstone" was a team competition masterminded by the New Jersey-centered Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association. In 1981 ESDCTA challenged MCTA, DVCTA, and OVCTA (based in the Oley Valley west of Philadelphia) to send junior and senior teams to a Novice and Training level horse trial to be held at the U.S. Equestrian Team's storied training facility in Gladstone, NJ. This was almost certainly the first team competition in the United States open to adults at eventing's lower levels, and later it expanded to include groups as far away as the "other" MCTA in Michigan. As one of the original groups involved, our MCTA traditionally supplied volunteers for the dressage phase along with its teams. While those teams certainly enjoyed their share of success at Gladstone over the years, riders, support crews, and volunteer workers all agreed that the comradery of the team experience and the specialness of the Hamilton Farm setting were at least as important as the results from the annual expedition to New Jersey. The team competition ended after the 1998 event when much of Hamilton Farm also fell victim to development, although it has been replaced to some degree by the Chronicle of the Horse-sponsored Eastern Team Challenge at a designated horse trial each fall.
Like most horse organizations, MCTA offers high score awards to its members based on their competitive placings throughout the year. This program began in 1972 with just one award, but it was a very special one. The perpetual trophy itself is a sterling silver urn valued into five figures which was first won by its namesake, Col. Ottmar Shaurek, in international jumping competition in the inter-war period. Col. Shaurek was Andy deSzinay's mentor in the Hungarian Cavalry. [As a cavalry officer on the Eastern Front during World War II, Andy oversaw one of the last horse cavalry operations in human history . . . from a helicopter!] Although Andy himself could not safely return to his native country under its Communist regime, his wife somehow managed to obtain the trophy from Col. Shaurek's widow during a visit in the summer of 1972 while Andy was attending the Munich Olympics. Typically looking to the future and aiming high, he designated this award for juniors competing in recognized events at the Training level and above. A parallel trophy bearing the name of MCTA's founding president was soon added for seniors, then a Horse of the Year award, and eventually some twenty others honoring special farms, people, or horses and rewarding riders of all ages at all levels of both recognized and unrecognized three-phase competition. An additional twenty-odd perpetual trophies are also contested by MCTA members at each of the organization's three annual horse trials.
Most of the high score trophies, plus tri-color ribbons to sixth place and practical prizes, are given out at MCTA's annual meeting and banquet held in the winter. Begun as a dinner-dance in 1972, the banquet has grown less formal over the years but still provides a welcome chance to socialize and not recognize eventing friends outside of their boots and britches or dirty blue jeans. A large silent auction has become an integral part of the banquet, with the often spirited bidding now funding MCTA's scholarship program. The grants are announced at the banquet, as are volunteer-of-the-year (since 1984) and lifetime achievement (since 2005) awards. Entertainment has been both horse-centered—videos of big international events, event-oriented speakers—and not—a magician, a barbershop quartet, and even a dressage judge demonstrating how to teach tricks to a cat.
As all of this amply testifies, ever since those first two committees met in the winter of 1972 MCTA has been busy organizing both educational programs and competitions. Somewhat less immediately clear, but probably of equal importance, has been its success in meeting its third objective of encouraging others to organize similar events. In the year of its founding a group of MCTA's members was already working regularly with Capt. Andy deSzinay at George and Marie Claire Roveti's farm in Monkton, where they soon built a bank, ditch, and other basic cross country fences and honed their skills in all three phases of eventing. Andy also worked with groups at Goucher College and the old Cub Hill Riding Academy—site of the present Graham Equestrian Center. For years Ann McKay's "Thursday Group" of mainly lower level riders, including many of MCTA's most committed volunteers, also met at the Rovetis', and from the beginning Ann held all sorts of informal educational events at her own farm in White Hall—now home to one of her many former students and designated USET developing event rider Daniel Clasing. Another group of active competitors, brought together primarily through MCTA, held periodic coaching sessions with former British international rider and Chester Springs, PA-based instructor Jeremy Beale. Starting at Ship's Quarters in 1976, this group continued to meet for twelve years at a variety of schools and farms and at McKay's, Jackson's Hole, and the Jenny Camp course for cross country schooling. With the arrival of USET three-day riders like Grant Schneidman and Gayle Molander in the Baltimore area, along with the development of "native" instructors (often with considerable support from MCTA) and the construction of more cross country courses and dressage arenas, such early get-togethers gradually gave way to individual lessons at an instructor's or rider's own base of operations. The schools and then an ever-increasing number of event-oriented boarding and training facilities continued to hold occasional clinics with well known eventers from outside the area as well, with MCTA often helping to publicize and populate them.
The first actual "outside" event to take place with MCTA's support and encouragement was Ship's Quarters, which began in 1973 and soon became one of the most important events in the nation. Farm owner Sallie Robertson's two sons had both attended McDonogh, and she had imbibed the combined training spirit there along with them. Willis Lynch did much of the fence building at Ship's Quarters, his daughter Mary Simmers served as the first organizer, and the vast majority of volunteer workers came from the ranks of MCTA. Beginning in 1976 this event, held the last weekend in April, served as the first selection trial for USET teams bound for the Olympics and World Championships. MCTA literally "saved the day" for that '76 selection trial (for the team that ultimately won the gold team and gold and silver individual medals in Montreal) when illness and newness led to all sorts of organizational glitches. Thanks to the presence of the trailer that MCTA had recently bought to serve as a mobile event office and storage space for score sheets, clipboards, and other supplies essential to running a competition, as well as experienced volunteers among the spectators who could, to give just one example, be plucked from the crowd, handed a stop watch, and asked to time stadium on ten minutes' notice, the event ended with much praise about how smoothly it had run! Quickly regaining its organizational legs, from then until American eventing began its wintertime migration to the South in the late '80s Ship's Quarters marked the beginning of the upper level season in the U.S. The same farm also became the venue for the long-running summertime Mt. Carmel Hounds combined tests, organized largely by MCTA members who also belonged to the hunt. Somewhat later Linda and Peter Green began organizing combined tests to benefit the Green Spring Hounds. The combined tests subsequently morphed into horse trials which the Greens held at their Master's Cave Farm in Glyndon. Like those at Ship's Quarters, these competitions also benefitted from many MCTA volunteers—not to mention many fox hunters who had been "trained" by previously helping out at Jackson's Hole. Held several weeks after the Ship's Quarters event, the Green Spring horse trials also served as USET selection trials in the 1980s, making Maryland the veritable epicenter of the U.S. sport from late April to mid May during that decade.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, with MCTA's support and inspiration riding instructor Janet McBrien, alumna Ruth Frey, Jane Neilson and a number of students and faculty members set to work in the summer of 1972 to build an introductory level cross country course on the Goucher College campus in Towson. By enhancing the combined training dimension of Goucher's riding program while providing an easily accessible place for ship-in schooling, this in turn helped to supply early MCTA events with competitors and volunteers. The college also began holding its own horse trials as well, and nearly two decades later a much-rebuilt Goucher course provided the venue for MCTA's starter event for three years. In similar reciprocal fashion, several already well established farms in central Maryland began to focus on combined training, at least in part with MCTA's help. Chief among these are Ami Howard's Olney Farm in Harford County which—in addition to a full program of competitions, clinics, and instruction of its own—has twice "taken in" temporarily site-less MCTA events, and Gretchen and Robert Butts' Camp Waredaca in Montgomery County which—also in addition to a full program of its own—supplied MCTA with co-presidents in 1987 and '88 and a location for various clinics and cross country schools. Each farm has long held both USEA-recognized and unrecognized events that give Marylanders many opportunities to indulge their eventing passion. Early on, several seasoned MCTA volunteers were instrumental in establishing the Seneca Valley Pony Club horse trials in Poolesville, and somewhat later MCTA members also played a vital role in starting the Marlborough Horse Trials held at Rosaryville State Park in Prince George's County. When Michele and Dave Buford decided to turn Dave's family farm near Hampstead into the venue for the Weave-A-Dream Horse Trials in the 1990s, they naturally turned to MCTA for advice and volunteers—which seemed entirely fitting since Michele had first ridden in and volunteered at MCTA events years before when she was a high school student catch-riding and helping out at Ship's Quarters. Yet another Carroll County farm that is rapidly becoming an eventing powerhouse, Full Moon Farm in Finksburg, also has always worked closely with MCTA. Perhaps not surprisingly, the secretary for Full Moon's competitions was introduced to eventing back in the '70s while a student at Goucher College.
Since its founding MCTA's routine business has been conducted by a variously named Executive Committee, Planning Committee, or "board" that still meets on the third Wednesday of the month at members' homes. There are now two sets of officers, one for MCTA itself and one for MCTA Horse Trials, Inc., a separate entity that runs the competitions and to which donations are tax-deductible. In addition to the officers these meetings include the organizers of all the association's activities plus those with behind-the-scenes responsibilities like public relations, newsletter, calendar, nominations, handbook, membership, webmaster, fund raising, trophy tracking, and high score point keeping,. Members not "on the board" are always welcome and encouraged to attend also. Thus is run one of the nation's oldest local CTAs, which has spent four decades as a most active contributor to and beneficiary of the rapid expansion of interest in eventing in America. As it has worked towards its triple objectives of putting on competitions and educational programs and encouraging others to do likewise, MCTA has retained a refreshing amount of the spirit of adventure, dedication, and congenial and cooperative willingness to pitch in and get the job done that characterized its very first meeting in the "pioneer days" of 1972. From a few still-active founding members to those who joined at the last competition, its members doggedly pursue their often complicated and frustrating but also infinitely exciting and rewarding sport both on and off their beloved horses.