Tryon World Equestrian Games Two Months to Go, an Update

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Spectator seating being installed in the main arena for dressage and jumping for the World Equestrian Games at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. The VIP and media center overlooking the arena is on the left.

July 11, 2018

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

With exactly two months to the opening of the World Equestrian Games, hundreds of riders are competing over the next couple of weeks for a ticket to what is the most ambitious privately-funded championships in history and in the throes of completing facilities that could draw as many as a half million horse fans to North Carolina from around the world beginning Sept. 11.

In what will be one of the largest sporting events in the world this year–World Cup for soccer not included–the combined world championships of eight international horse sports held once very four years may be the best yet of what could be the end of a dream begun in 1990.

The FEI, the International Equestrian Federation that owns the Games, reports that an anticipated 1,000 athletes, 1,500 horses and 500,000 spectators from more than 70 countries will go to the Games at the Tryon International Equestrian Center.

Whether those goals are achieved, final qualification competitions for several nations are underway at premier European shows such as the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen, Germany and the Falsterbo Horse Show in Sweden.

Tryon has captured the imagination of the elite of horse sport competitors and fans.

Last minute preparations are underway even as the show grounds stage weekly horse shows and other popular events such as arena polo.

Most of the sports venues from the cross country course for eventing, marathon for driving, enclosed arena for reining and vaulting and the stadium for para is at or near completion while work is underway on the main dressage and jumping arena that is expected to take no more than a few weeks.

The grandstand for 20,000 spectators as the temporary centerpiece competition arena for dressage and jumping has begun and, as is common for similar major events around the world such as the Global Champions Tour that stages jumping spectaculars in the heart of major cities, is underway in plenty of time. Footing is being prepared for installation in the next couple of weeks by the company that created the iconic pink show rings for the sprawling Global Dressage Festival and Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.

The roof was being placed on the three-story permanent media and VIP center that looms over both the main arena and the existing George Morris stadium as the showplace for eventing dressage and para dressage, that with dressage, jumping, driving, endurance, reining and vaulting make up the eight equestrian disciplines governed by the FEI that owns these championships held once every four years.

The three-story VIP and media center overlooking the two major competition arenas for the World Equestrian Games at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina.

A massive enclosed arena–expanded to 300,000 square feet (27,870 sq. meters) of competition, spectator and stabling under one roof for reining and vaulting from an original covered arena one-third the size is within days of being finished, despite unprecedented months of rain over winter and spring that caused construction delays on the 1,200-acre (485ha) site in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains providing a spectacular backdrop.

However, one of the most critical elements, housing on the show grounds for up to 900 grooms that provide around the clock care for up to several weeks of the estimated 1,000 horses to be on site is reported as still not settled.

Housing of grooms after sub-standard facilities at the 2010 World Games in Lexington, Kentucky and the sub-sub-standard at the 2014 Normandy Games is considered a major issue by riders and owners of the horses typically costing multi millions of  dollar, as well as the caretakers.

Housing for the grooms was to be part of an athlete’s village, the first of its type for an equestrian games and based on the concept employed at Olympics, but that has not occurred.

National federations have been told that temporary modular units will be provided but details have not yet become available.

Modular units of completed hotel-style rooms constructed at a robotocized high tech plant near the show grounds have yet to be delivered.

Foundation of hotel with elevator shaft awaiting modular unit rooms.

These Games at the Tryon center in Mill Spring, North Carolina are built on a facility that was already producing dozens of horse shows a year after being created in just three years by a group of investors led by Mark Bellissimo, the entrepreneur who took over the Florida show grounds a decade ago and revolutionized dressage in the United States.

An estimated quarter billion dollars have been invested in Tryon, along with at least another $50 million in operating costs of this WEG that was salvaged after the Canadian organizers that had been awarded the Games pulled out less than two years to go.

The enormous cost of hosting the event since it was created in 1990 may make this the last combinaed championships in its current format.

Unlike the International Olympic Committee that admits events of this magnitude cannot be staged without financial support and is providing many hundreds of millions of dollars to support organizers of future Olympics, the FEI is reported not only to have not provided any financial aid but requires costly services borne by the organizer.

Indications are that at this stage, dressage and eventing are the most popular for ticket buyers though other disciplinaes are expected to sell out by the time the Games open Sept.11.

An issue that has been cited as impacting attendance, is the lack of accommodation in the western Carolinas within easy distance of the show grounds. The 2014 Normandy Games were spread over large distances and within the central city of Caen typically took up to an hour to travel to the main venue, a converted socer stadium that provided no facilities for spectators.

Tryon has at least a dozen permanent restaurants on the show grounds as well as numerous other options during WEG.