The Chronicle of the Horse is celebrating its 75th birthday in 2012. For seven weeks we’ll bring you a decade-by-decade look at the history that has filled its pages since 1937.
The decade of the 1960s was a golden era for horse sports and for the Chronicle. The ‘60s saw glamorous hunter stars like Cold Climate, Cap And Gown, and Isgilde become famous. The U.S. Equestrian Team sent jumper stars like Frank Chapot, Bill Steinkraus, Kathy Kusner and Hugh Wiley overseas to compete, and they won on the biggest stages like Aachen. Thoroughbreds reigned supreme in both the hunters and the jumpers.
The Chronicle covered three Olympic Games in the 1960s—1960 in Rome, 1964 in Tokyo and 1968 in Mexico City. U.S. riders won team silver in show jumping in 1960, where a young George Morris placed fourth individually. In 1968, Bill Steinkraus earned a historic individual gold medal in Mexico City. U.S. riders took team silver in the three-day event in ’64 and ’68, with Mike Plumb taking individual bronze in ’68 and Michael Page individual bronze in '64.
The first grand prix show jumping event was held on July 25, 1965 in Cleveland, Ohio (Mary Mairs [Chapot] won it on Tomboy). The USET began taking a more proactive approach to developing international teams when it established a training center at Gladstone.
In 1961, the Chronicle made a significant change—it was, in fact, the birth of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine. The Chronicle’s publisher, the G.L. Ohrstrom Estate, bought out another publication, Horse, and in a Jan. 6, 1961, issue, the merged magazine debuted. Readers first saw the iconic cover, with its swirling artwork and distinctive logo, in this issue. Editor Alexander Mackay-Smith explained the change to readers in an editorial.
By 1960, the Chronicle’s circulation had grown from 5,000 subscribers to 12,000, and in 1961, a few months after announcing the new The Chronicle of the Horse, Mackay-Smith devoted another editorial to magazine business, explaining a rise in subscription rates from $7.00 per year to $9.00. He noted that since 1948, the Chronicle had doubled its page numbers each week and covered twice as many shows in a year, expanding their coverage to racing, polo and dressage.
In the ‘60s, Thoroughbred racing was still prominent in the magazine. The first article in each issue was the legendary Raleigh Burroughs’ column about the racing scene, and the yearly stallion issue was devoted to racing Thoroughbreds.
But the other horse sports were gaining prominence. Reports on the top shows like Devon, Upperville, and the indoor shows like the Pennsylvania National and the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden (N.Y.) became more and more descriptive and colorful in their writing.
Many writers who reported on shows for the Chronicle wrote under pen names, like “Tanbark” and “Fencepost.” But Margaret L. Smith always wrote under her own name. In a 1960 report on the Pennsylvania National, she described a battle between two Thoroughbreds—Cold Climate and Bold Minstrel–for the prestigious conformation hunter title. In the ‘60s, the conformation hunters were the stars, the best horses. And Cold Climate was just 5 at that point, having been shown in the green conformation division as a 3- and 4-year-old.
Amateur divisions began appearing in the hunter rings. Jumpers became more popular, even at the old-school bastions of hunters. A report from the 1967 Upperville Horse Show (Va.) contained this note: “Back in 1853 when Col Richard Hunter Dulaney of the 7th Virginia Cavalry inaugurated the first horse show in the sylvan, picturesque setting outside Upperville, Va., he had probably never even heard of an open jumper.
“But this year, the 114th annual show, there they were. It was a green jumper division. And some eighteen entries weaved their way in amongst the trees over the courses designed by Gen. F.F. Wing and built by Erskine Bedford and Adgar “Eggie” Mills.
“If the reaction of the crowd and the exhibitors is any yardstick, I feel sure that the 115th will see the jumpers back again.”
Some of the reporting in the Chronicle’s pages was pretty perfunctory, but Editor Alexander Mackay-Smith could be counted on for a good read. His reports on international competitions gave the reader not just the facts of the results, but also the feeling of the atmosphere, like in his report on the team show jumping competition of the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.
By the late ‘60s, Mackay-Smith had developed an unusual formula for covering international competitions. He would travel with the USET team abroad and report in the Chronicle in the form of an informal diary, describing their training and preparation for the events as well as the actual results of the day. This culminated in his coverage of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. The bare-bones results of the Games were published quickly in the magazine’s In The Country section, but Mackay-Smith spread out his “Mexican Olympic Diary” Olympic coverage over months, starting in November, more than a month after the Games’ completion, and ending in January 1969. There were nine installments in the diary, covering each of the three sports.