A Brief History of the MCTA

histcollageThe primary impetus for the founding of the Maryland Combined Training Association in 1972 came from McDonogh School in Owings Mills, to the northwest of Baltimore. Then an all-male military academy (which included future Olympian Bruce Davidson, Sr. among its boarding students), its riding director Willis Lynch considered combined training an excellent competitive pursuit for his charges—in part because of the sport's origin as a test for cavalry officers and their mounts. Since most combined training events at the time were a considerable distance away, however, McDonogh alumni and parent Charles ("Bucky") Laubach joined with Willis's daughter and assistant Mary Lynch (now Simmers) to propose an organization that would put on events in central Maryland, help and encourage others to do the same, and also hold clinics and informational programs to provide knowledgeable competitors, volunteers, and spectators for these events. Joining with McDonogh instructors, students, and alumni in getting MCTA started were many people from the local Pony Clubs, others with British Horse Society credentials, the handful of central Marylanders already competing at combined training's upper levels, two men with cavalry backgrounds, representatives of recently-formed dressage and combined training organizations in neighboring areas, and even a few folks whose interest in the sport so far came entirely from reading about it in books.

After establishing a constitution and by-laws and electing officers, which included two junior vice-presidents, the fledgling MCTA set up a committee on clinics and a committee on competitions and immediately set to work on two of its objectives—providing educational programs and competitions. The former initially concentrated on general combined training rules and the dressage phase since most Maryland riders in the early 1970s already had some jumping and cross country experience from fox hunting, timber racing, or hunter-jumper showing. Local talent was used at first, but to begin its second year MCTA held a weekend clinic (oversubscribed and packed with auditors) featuring lectures, films, and instruction from Jack LeGoff, Mike Plumb, and Bruce Davidson—the coach and half the team that had just brought the three day silver medal home to the U.S. from the Munich Olympics. Ever since then the organization has tried to bring in nationally and internationally known eventers for clinics once or twice a year while still making frequent use of its own members' expertise for many other mounted and unmounted programs. Since 1976 it has also awarded as many as five scholarships to assist its hard-working volunteer members with the financial side of their eventing education.

Meanwhile, back in 1972 the first competition committee focused its attention on an unrecognized Novice and Training level horse trial held that June at Mr. and Mrs. Richard N. Jackson's Jackson Hole Farm in Upperco. Reflecting the importance of Pony Club and the local schools with riding programs, all but nine of the forty-two Training entrants were juniors, as were more than half of the Novice riders. All paid an entry fee of $10. The Jacksons' immaculately maintained farm with its rolling hills and excellent turf was an immediate success, and remained the site of the MCTA Horse Trials (soon recognized by the USCTA—now USEA—and changed to Training and Preliminary levels) for thirty-one years. Benefitting immensely from Sheila Jackson's physical, financial, and moral support, "Jackson's Hole" was designated an "official" event, served as an Area 2 Young Riders selection trial, and pioneered both limited (now "restricted") divisions for less experienced adults and the idea of doing away with penalty zones around cross country obstacles. In 2003 MCTA's major event moved to Shawan Downs, a venue being developed as a site for steeplechasing and other equestrian sports. The Novice level was restored immediately, with Intermediate and Advanced following in 2006. Entries have numbered as many as 500 and entry fees have risen as high as $215, but the event is still considered one of the best in USEA's Area 2.

Beside its "big" event, MCTA has held summer and fall competitions annually since 1972. The summer competition originated as a "dressage and jumping show" designed to introduce jumper riders to combined training. It soon took the form of a combined test, for awhile featuring a unique horsemanship class ridden over a typical stadium course but scored like a dressage test with comments and scores from one to ten for the entry, each obstacle, and a series of general impressions at the end. In more recent years the summer competition has become a starter horse trials, usually with some sort of everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-eventing-but-were-afraid-to-ask program associated with it.

MCTA's fall competition began as a horse trial with 2' and 2'6" divisions to encourage younger juniors to try eventing. Right away in 1972, however, adults who had been steadily volunteering at other competitions and wanted to try riding themselves but didn't feel up to the then 2'9" Novice entry level requested that they be given a section in the fall event too. Briefly in the 1960s, before it acquired the "Novice" name, USCTA's entry level had been called the Jenny Camp division after an Army mare responsible for three U.S. three-day medals in the 1930s, and that name was applied to the adult section at MCTA's fall event. Soon the name came to refer to the whole competition, which later incorporated the Maryland Interschool Event among its divisions.

From 1973 through 1987 MCTA sponsored a dressage schooling show in early spring—once with a clear round jumping opportunity as well. The growth of dressage and accompanying proliferation of schooling shows in Maryland eventually made that competition unnecessary, however. Also no longer in existence, the Gladstone Team Horse Trials was once another key fixture in MCTA's schedule. Begun as a challenge from the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association to DVCTA, OVCTA, and MCTA in 1981 and held at the U.S. Equestrian Team's elegant training facility, Hamilton Farm in Gladstone, NJ through 1998, MCTA supplied volunteers for the dressage phase as well as junior and senior Novice and Training teams for this event.

Over the years MCTA has acquired an astounding total of forty-two perpetual high score trophies which are awarded to its members annually. Some are based on a whole season of competition, while others reward top scores at each of MCTA's horse trials. Together they now cover just about every age and level of rider and horse imaginable. Most are awarded at the annual meeting and banquet, which also includes an extensive silent auction to benefit the scholarship fund and presentation of volunteer-of-the-year and lifetime achievement awards.
MCTA's third objective, encouraging and supporting other groups that hold combined training activities, has also been well fulfilled over the years. Before the arrival of top level instructors in the Baltimore area, various groups brought together through MCTA supplemented the organization's own clinics with coaching sessions of their own. Founding member Ann McKay held informal schooling events at her White Hall farm from the beginning. Just a year after its founding MCTA was instrumental in getting the Ship's Quarters events in Westminster started, and it later helped to supply equipment and volunteers for the Green Spring events. Until the late 1980s both served as USET selection trials and attracted upper level competitions from all over the country, making Maryland the veritable center of U.S. eventing in mid-spring. Several farms which are now heavily involved in combined training, particularly Olney Farm in Harford County, Camp Waredaca in Montgomery County, and Full Moon and the former Weave-A-Dream Farms in Carroll County, have both benefitted from and contributed to MCTA's success. Finally, members who got their start riding and volunteering with MCTA have also been instrumental in getting other events like the Seneca Valley Pony Club and Marlborough Horse Trials well established.

Routine MCTA business is still handled through monthly meetings in members' homes by a group that includes the officers, all activity organizers, and those with behind-the-scenes responsibilities like public relations, the newsletter, calendar, and handbook, nominations, membership, webmaster, fund raising, trophy tracking, and high score point keeping. It runs one of the nation's oldest and strongest CTAs, which has now spent four decades contributing to and benefitting from the rapid expansion of interest in combined training. Happily, it has retained a refreshing amount of the spirit of adventure, dedication, and congenial willingness to pitch in and get the job done that characterized its own and American eventing's "pioneer days." 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.

—Ruth Frey, 1996 
(revised 2011)

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