ITRA began over a dispute about trails in Brown County State Park. Up until the mid 1970’s the horse camp at Brown County had no designated camp sites. As Arlene Smoot described it in her history articles for Trail Mix, “Everyone just pulled into the woods and parked best they could. There were vehicles everywhere. If you wanted electricity you had to have long extension cords. The cords had to run from the trailers across the road to the outlets.” But as Smoot remembered, campers enjoyed camping there because “it was not so regulated and everyone talked and visited together.”
In the mid 1970's the park had made a new horse camp--the one in use today. The new camp lacked shade trees, but it was much bigger than the old camp and did have designated camping sites with close-by electrical outlets, nearby water, and hitching rails for each site. But it came with two major drawbacks. Its new location in the park meant that people pulling horse trailers had to drive the narrow, windy, hilly State Road 135 South. But the second drawback was more severe: the DNR ruled that all single-file trails in the park were off limits to horses except for two. The DNR’s reason was that they could not keep the single-file trails properly maintained because they required hand work. The two trails that were left open for riders, A and B, could be maintained with bulldozers. Smoot recalls, “Now we had plenty of room for lots of campers but no trails to speak of.” Needless to say, this ruling generated much anger among trail riders.
Forrest Skinner lived on St. Rd. 135 and had ridden all those single-file trails created by deer for many years. He was very upset by the new rules and organized an open meeting on a Saturday night on the Rally Ground, now part of the park’s primitive camp ground. As Arlene Smoot recalls, “There were many very angry people at this meeting. It was, as I remember, quite a long meeting with much shouting and many, many complaints. Believe it or not, this was the beginning of Indiana Trail Riders Association.” A board was formed and met with the DNR over several meetings regarding the trails. Eventually an agreement was reached to make half the single-file trails available to riders on the condition that the newly formed ITRA would maintain those trails. That was the beginning of ITRA’s mission of maintaining horse trails in Indiana. Over the years more trails came under ITRA’s maintenance.
ITRA became formalized as an organization when Indiana Secretary of State Edwin J. Simcox issued the Certificate of Incorporation for Indiana Trail Riders Association, Inc. on June 1, 1982. The first board of directors consisted of five members: Jan Vinson, Bill Rumbaugh, Douglas McCormick, Leslie Simmons, and Forrest H. Skinner. The post office address of the principal office of the new corporation was P.O. Box 720 Nashville, IN 47448, which was Jan Vinson's address. She was considered the resident agent of the corporation. Meetings were held at night in Nashville, Indiana.
Brown County was not the only challenge ITRA faced and dealt with sucessfully in its early days. The Indiana DNR wanted to eliminate horse trails at the Potato Creek campground and the majority of Salamonie State Forest. With Ron McCoy at the lead as Board Chair, Jody Weldy as the President, and Yvette Rollins as Vice President, ITRA was able to prevent those policies from being put in place.
After a few years, Beverly Jones was elected president of ITRA and made significant operational changes. Bev established Farmland, her hometown, as ITRA’s official home base. She also changed the board meetings to a weekend time so that more people could participate. The board meetings were held at various restaurants over the state rather than in one location, which helped give the organization more of a statewide presence. The organization started holding annual meetings at a large shelter house in Brown County State Park. Those meeting were so well attended that ITRA began checking membership cards to ensure that attendees were actually members.
Beverly Jones was able to organize many new volunteers. She was diligent about building a good rapport with the DNR. The board met with the DNR several times a year to discuss ITRA's and their wants and needs. She and her friend Pat Moore made many trips to other states to learn how these states operated their horse trails on public lands.
Beverly knew how to organize events that made people feel welcome and needed while advancing the interests of ITRA. One event that brought together Beverly’s skills was ITRA’s annual VIP ride. ITRA invited every legislator in the state and DNR adminstrators to Brown County Horsemen’s Camp for a weekend. They were welcome to stay overnight, but could also just came for the day on Saturday, as most did. It was not uncommon for as many as 90 people to attend. Their day started with a lunch featuring pork chops cooked over an open grill and lots of good, homemade sides and desserts. After lunch safe horses were available for those who wanted to ride the park with ITRA members. Usually wagons, buggies, or once a stage coach, were available as well. VIP rides continued for many years. Over time attendance began to drop off and the complexity of putting the ride together led ITRA to suspend the ride. The VIP ride did, however, give ITRA opportunities to talk and interact with legislators and DNR staff who had an influence in matters that were on the parties' agendas.
As years passed the make up of the Board evolved to include a new generation of members who has not been among the original membership. These newer members saw that the scopeof the organization's work had expanded and that potential growth was strong. In November of 1999 a set of changes to the by-laws was presented to the membership in Trail Mix. A number of changes were proposed, but one outstanding change was to the manner in which elections were held. Up until that time voting for officers and board members occured at the annual meeting then being held at Midwest Trail Ride. However, space there was limited there and not all members could attend. So a change was made to allow members to vote by mail to ensure that all members had the opportunity to vote. The venue of the annual meeting was moved from Midwest Trail Rides to a more centralized location to make attendance more convenient for ITRA's statewide membership. (The venue ultimately decided upon was the Noblesville county fairgrounds.) The timing of the annual meeting was also moved from November to the spring. Those changes, and others, were approved at the annual meeting of 2000.