by Denny Emerson, 1998
Sometime during the Pan American Games week of September 2, 1959, a meeting was held at Patrick Butler's home in Oak Brook, Illinois, at which the USCTA was founded and the nature of American eventing was fundamentally changed. Since the great majority of us who are actively eventing today weren't born thirty-eight years ago, or weren't yet riding in events, we are basically ignorant about how and why our association came into being.
Jack Fritz, the Secretary of the USET, and Alexander Mackay-Smith, Editor Emeritus of The Chronicle of the Horse, were among the twenty-five or thirty men and women present that day. It is from them that I have been able to reconstruct the circumstances which led to the creation of our eleven thousand member association that in 1997 we generally take for granted.
According to Jack Fritz, it was the three-day event at the 1948 Olympic Games in London which "stimulated an interest among British sportsmen, especially fox hunters. In 1949 the Duke of Beaufort held the first three-day event at Badminton. In May of 1950 the British Horse Society called a meeting of those interested in eventing with the idea of regulating and encouraging this new sport. It was decided after much head scratching to call the sport Combined Training.
American interest in eventing developed in the 1950s. Leaders in creating interest in the sport in the east were Alexander Mackay-Smith and his neighbor H. Steward Treviranus, a Scotsman who was a member of the 1952 Canadian team at Helsinki. A leader in the West was Richard Collins. Major Jonathan R. Burton was also a promoter of the sport to the extent his military duties allowed."
It was apparently pretty slow going in those early years. "Although the USET and the AHSA both set up three-day event committees," said Fritz, "these committees' main interest was the three-day event as the basis of developing riders and horses for international competition." There wasn't much in the way of a grass roots structure in the '50's and for those of us eventing today, there would have been an even more dramatic difference. Women were considered incapable of riding at the Olympic level, so the huge statistical preponderance of women in the sport hadn't yet taken place. Not until 1964, when Lana du Pont (now Lana Wright) became the first woman to ride in an Olympic three-day event at Tokyo, did that flood gate open.
Fritz continues, "In 1955, the USET sponsored the first National Three-Day Championship for the Wofford Cup, named for the first president of the USET, Colonel John (Gyp) Wofford. The event was held in the Metamora Hunt area north of Detroit. National USET Championships were held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs in 1957 and 1958, the latter being the selection trial for the 1959 Pan American Games."
Meanwhile, back in the eastern part of America, the Green Mountain Horse Association in South Woodstock, Vermont began to assume a leadership role in support of eventing. Pomfret, Vermont summer resident Philip Hoffman (president of Johnson and Johnson) and long time GMHA officer Roger Maher organized eventing clinics taught by Brigadier General John Tupper Cole, Stewart Treviranus, H.L.M. Van Schaik, Capt. John (Jack) Fritz, Trudy Balboni and Jean Campbell. During the mid fifties famous eventing personalties like Denis Glaccum, Roger Haller, Lana Du Pont, Donnan Sharp, and Dr. Mary Alice Brown were among the hundreds who got their initiation into eventing in that lovely valley.
Alexander Mackay-Smith, as Editor of The Chronicle of the Horse, and as a director of the USET was in a strong public position to push for promotion of combined training events. He didn't feel that the AHSA and USET were doing enough to promote eventing and so it was Mackay-Smith's urging and his influence, according to Jack Fritz, that ultimately led to the meeting in Illinois where the USCTA was born.
Fritz makes the unequivocal statement that, "Alexander Mackay-Smith merits the title 'Father of the USCTA'. No one did more than he to get the association formed and functioning. Second in importance is Phillip B. Hoffman, who as first president calmed the fears of the USET and the AHSA that this new organization wanted to take over their roles."
I spoke recently with Mr. Mackay-Smith, who told me that because John Galvin had bought a ranch in California in the '50s and had persuaded the USET to hold training sessions there, this left the East coast with little eventing activity, especially at the lower levels. To promote eastern eventing, Mackay-Smith persuaded Whitney Stone, who was then president of the USET, to try to get Stewart Treviranus more greatly involved in east coast eventing. Stone paid Treviranus' expenses in exchange for teaching and other technical support for a few years, but then stopped supporting Treviranus, "because he was too grass roots," said Mackay-Smith. Mackay-Smith realized that there was a need for some sort of association between Pony Club for youngsters and the USET for international riders if eventing were ever to get established in the United States.
"Accordingly, I sent a letter to everyone I knew interested in eventing to come to a meeting during the Pan American Games in Chicago in September of 1959. About twenty-five people came to the meeting. We founded the USCTA and elected officers pro-term, with Phil Hofmann as president," said Mackay-Smith.
Jack Fritz and Alexander Mackay-Smith can't remember all of the people who were there at Paul Butler's home that day 38years ago, but some of them they do recall were Dr. Joseph Rogers, Edward Harris, Marilyn and Stewart Treviranus, Col. Francis Appleton, Donnan Sharp, Lana du Pont, Iris Winthrop, Margaret Lindsay Warden, and Roger Maher.
This fledgling association only had about two dozen members. Later that fall, in November, Philip Hofmann convened a second meeting in New York City to elect officers. Hofmann was elected President, Edward Harris Vice President, Alexander Mackay-Smith Secretary, and Joe Rogers Treasurer. Stewart Treviranus and Jack Fritz were charged with writing a horse trials rule book based on the British book. The first annual meeting of the USCTA was held January 31, 1960 at the New Yorker Hotel in New York City.
From that modest beginning, the USCTA in partnership with the AHSA and the USET, has propelled American eventing to such an extent that we are probably second only to England as an international power.
Even though almost four decades have passed since that meeting in Illinois, many of the 'pioneers' from that day are still active as leaders and innovators in American horse sports. I would hope that they feel gratified that the little association which they had the vision to create has grown into such a respected and significant leader in the American horse community. The USCTA is synonymous with good sportsmanship, good riding, and an emphasis above all else on a respect for the well-being of the horse. That's quite a legacy.