Road to Maclay Finals: The History Behind this Equitation Classic

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

BY ERICA O’NEIL

The National Maclay Finals Championship will be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky on October 27th this year making it the 135th year anniversary of the event.

Founded in 1933, this unique Equitation class was created and named after Mr. Alfred Maclay. Mr. Maclay was born in 1871 in New York City, where he was enlisted in the United States infantry to fight in the Spanish American War. He eventually earned the rank of second Lieutenant.

During his childhood he spent time riding horses, but an injury forced him to leave the sport of showjumping. Instead, he turned his interest to a Hackney horses and Fine Harness horses, and decided to join the Board of the National Horse Show where he served as president from 1922-1924. Later in his life, he was elected president of the American Horse Shows Association (the predecessor to USEF). Maclay held the title for eleven years from 1925 to 1936.  

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

In 1927, Maclay wrote the original six page pamphlet that was used to regulate horse show memberships and management. This pamphlet has remained the basis of United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) rules and guidelines ever since.

The very first Maclay class was held in Madison Square Garden at the 1933 National Horse Show. Maclay’s hope was that this major final would inspire young riders to develop good horsemanship and compassion for their equine partners. He also wanted the final to demonstrate how flat work is just as, if not even more, important than jumping. Because of this, both the flat and jumping phases are judged the same way.

The very first year this final was held, only 29 riders competed in the event. Its first winner was Audrey Chesney. In 2017’s Maclay Finals, 177 horses competed with seventeen-year-old Madison Goetzmann winning top honors. Madison trains at Beacon Hill Show Stables out of New Jersey with Stacia Klein Madden, and qualified for Maclay Finals last year through Region two competing at Old Salem Farm in New York. This was a special win for Madison as her trainer, Stacia, won the same competition in 1987. Madison topped the class with a beautiful, flawless performance.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Known as one of the most prestigious equestrian events in the United States, Maclay Finals is what many top junior riders dream and work towards. Maclay Finals takes a tremendous amount of work, from both horse and rider, to get to the level of which you can actually compete to win making the honor that much greater. It’s an equitation tradition steeped in history, and a huge success for our sport.