Neil Ayer was primarily responsible for the success and popularity of American eventing in the 1970s and the 1980s. Born at Ledyard Farm in 1926, Ayer attended the United States Military Academy from 1944 to 1948 and served as a member of the United States Army until 1952. After his military service, he attended Harvard Business School, attaining his MBA in 1954 after which he went to work for the family investment firm, Ayer Tenens Corporation, until his death in 1990.
Ayer was something of a legendary figure – larger than life and brimming with energy, enthusiasm, and intensity. He was just as at home digging a ditch in an old mud and creosote-covered T-shirt as he was following hounds in the resplendent colors of the Myopia Hunt, where he served as Master of Foxhounds from 1968 to 1984. Ayer uniquely combined the style and manners of the Boston Brahmin with a most thoroughly democratic attitude that shunned snobbery and pretension and appreciated sincerity and merit. He was unfailingly courteous and gracious to everyone and was greatly respected, not just for his many attainments, but because he always accorded respect to others.
The things that Ayer did for eventing, though exceptional, are not as important as the way he did them: with an enthusiasm that inspired belief and commitment in others. Ayer became president of the United States Combined Training Association (USCTA) in 1971 during a time when eventing was struggling to gain a foothold in the U.S. and held the position for 11 years until 1988. Under his leadership, USCTA membership grew from 500 to 6,000. Ayer also helped create the United States Equestrian Team (USET) facilities in Hamilton, Massachusetts where Jack LeGoff trained so many of the medal-winning horses and riders that represented the United States during what was considered the “Golden Era” of eventing in the U.S.
Ayer was responsible for the international events that took place at Ledyard Farm in 1973, 1975, and 1977, which were largely considered to be the first major international three-day events in the United States. For many years he was the United States’ leading course designer and was responsible for the 1984 Olympic and 1986 World Championship cross-country courses. In 1977, Ayer was the inaugural recipient of the Wofford Cup, which is awarded yearly to the individual who has had a profound long-term influence on eventing in the United States.
Described by Denny Emerson as an “inspired visionary and a determined doer,” Ayer was the spokesman for eventing in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, ushering in an era of unprecedented popularity for the sport. Perhaps the most important part of Ayer's extraordinary legacy was the example of his own life: his grace and quiet courage through years of illness, his zest and enthusiasm that transformed every job into an adventure, and his visionary leadership.