The Maryland Combined Training Association Horse Trials take place yearly at Shawan Downs in Cockeysville, Maryland (Area II) in early May, offering horse trial divisions for Beginner Novice through Intermediate and combined tests for Preliminary through Advanced.
Early in the 1970s, Willis Lynch, Director of Riding at McDonogh School, an all-male military academy, was interested in taking his students to compete at combined training events as part of the riding program. However, the nearest events would require 200-mile round trips from the school’s location in northwestern Baltimore. Lynch, with the help of his daughter, Mary, and Charles Laubach, a McDonogh alumnus and parent, came up with the idea for the Maryland Combined Training Association (MCTA) to do three things: host events, hold clinics and other informational programs to educate competitors, volunteers, and spectators about eventing, and to encourage other members of the equestrian community to host similar events.
MCTA was officially founded on February 3, 1972 and held its first horse trials in June of that year as an unrecognized event at Mr. and Mrs. Richard N. Jackson’s Jackson’s Hole Farm in Upperco, Maryland. Their second event, held in October of 1972, was awarded recognition by the USEA (then USCTA). Then, after 31 years of success at Jackson’s Hole, the MCTA Horse Trials moved to Shawan Downs in Cockeysville, Maryland in 2003.
The property where Shawan Downs now stands had been in danger of development into residential housing, but a group of passionate equestrians - including MCTA’s horse trials organizer at the time, Shockey Gillet, and longtime treasurer, Joan Hoblitzell - bought the property and set about turning it into a first-class equestrian venue for steeplechasing and other equestrian events, including eventing.
The 2003 horse trials was the first non-racing event to be held at Shawan Downs. The Novice level was added to the existing Training and Preliminary level offerings that year, and Intermediate and Advanced levels were added in 2006. Beginner Novice was included for the first time at MCTA in 2013, making MCTA one of the few events nation-wide offering all six levels at one event. The event currently runs a one-day format on both Saturday and Sunday, with Advanced, Intermediate, Preliminary, and Training competing on Saturday and Modified, Novice, and Beginner Novice running on Sunday.
The original cross-country courses at Shawan Downs were constructed by Dave Wisner, a father of several of MCTA’s most accomplished junior riders, and his business, K & L Contracting. Walter Reynolds, an upper-level eventer and landscape architect, rounded out Dave Wisner’s builds with his beautiful and creative course decorations. David O’Connor was MCTA’s course designer at Shawan Downs until Tremaine Cooper, Morgan Rowsell, and Jeff Kibbie took over with help from course builder Eric Bull, and Jeff Kibbie now designs the courses for all levels with Bull as course builder.
Current co-organizer Ami Howard explained that one of the things she looks forward to most about the event each year is working alongside Kibbie and Bull on the cross-country course. “[I like] construction and painting, just being out on the course,” she elaborated. “I like the physical work more than the paperwork!”
“We try to keep the courses up-to-date with the best footing we can find – we’ve had a lot of trouble with the huge amount rain the last two or three years and it’s been it very challenging,” Howard shared. “Because I used to compete and my daughter is currently competing, we’re very aware of what the riders need.”
Because Shawan Downs is home to more than just the horse trials, the MCTA Team works on a tight schedule to get things completed on time for the event. “We aren’t allowed to get on the course until they finish the [spring steeplechase] races. Most of the work, except for any kind of major construction – Eric will come mid-winter and do some work – is done the last three weeks of April.”
“The terrain is awesome for spectators," Howard continued. "You can see the entire course from the top of a hill – so that’s where our course director sits, that’s where the emergency crew sits, because you can see everything.”
As the event has been running continuously for more than 40 years, Howard feels that the history and tradition behind the even set it apart for the rider, owners, spectators, and volunteers who come together every year to make the MCTA Horse Trials possible. “Because it’s been around for so long, it’s a fixture."
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