Tryon a Year On From World Equestrian Games
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Sept. 23, 2019
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
The World Equestrian Games ended on this day a year ago at the Tryon International Equestrian Center that is still not quite a complete masterpiece of show grounds but attractive for thousands of riders, owners and sponsors to want to be there for 33 weeks of competitions this year.
The United States para dressage championships, a regional eventing competition on a Mark Phillips-designed cross country course and combined CDI3* and national dressage events were staged the same weekend with room to spare coinciding with the anniversary of the start of the World Games. In fact, more than 40 different events including dressage, jumpers, hunters, eventing and reining have been staged in the 33 weeks.
The facility in western North Carolina with the Blue Ridge mountains as a backdrop in an area that was a winter retreat for the Gilded Age wealthy a century ago is one of the most modern and expansive complexes in the world. It fulfills much of an equestrian lifestyle of top notch stabling and competition arenas, a range of restaurants–steak house, Italian, sushi, classic New Jersey diner, coffee in the Sta rbucks style, salsa, sandwiches, hot dogs and popcorn–and a variety of accommodations from large cabins to motel rooms, all on the grounds.
The WEG was an overly ambitious endeavor by entrepreneur Mark Bellissimo, who expanded the Winter Equestrian Festival, created the Global Dressage Festival and acquired International Polo Club in Wellington, Florida into one of the world’s must go-to winter destinations.
With well under two years to go, he took over a failed attempt by Canada to stage the championships of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining, vaulting and para dressage held once every four years since the original version in 1990.
Too little time, unseasonable weather that reduced significantly construction opportunities over winter, a goal to make everything better than ever before led to some highly publicized shortcomings–inadequate grooms’ quarters, steel scaffolding and holes in the ground that were to be on-site hotels, an unfinished magnificent permanent three-story VIP and media center cum future showcase convention pavilion that was in the middle of the facility–simply not finished on time.
Dressage, a highlight of the World Games, was curtailed by Hurricane Florence that battered the southeastern United States coast and led to almost constant meetings among the organizers, officials of the different nations and transportation companies as the effects of the storm edged closer to when the Grand Prix Freestyle was scheduled.
A year later and it’s still not clear what was the final straw that led to cancellation that disappointed both fans and the 15 riders with their horses who were to perform musical rides.
The organizers were working around the clock on a solution, the American company responsible for transportation was willing to reshuffle horses in what was the biggest airlift of horses in history–a European company was in overall charge and not so accommodating. Several riders qualified for the freestyle texted this correspondent they would do what was necessary to make it work as they wanted to stay for the final dressage competition, one chance every four years to become world freestyle champion and to perform before spectators who had bought tickets, flown in from around the world to stay in hotels and motels for this moment.
Not to be.
The scoreboard towering over the arena in which para dressage was held. The arena was originally named for the renowned George Morris of jumper fame, changed to the Tryon Stadium for the WEG reverted to the George Morris Arena following the WEG. After George Morris was banned for life under United States Safe Sport rules, the name was changed back to Tryon Stadium.
Tryon International Equestrian Center was a Rolex sponsored show grounds from its inauguration, along with some of the world’s leading show grounds such as Aachen, Germany; Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada; ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands and Geneva, Switzerland and the Wellington dressage and jumper events.
However, when Tryon stepped in to rescue the World Games Rolex agreed to step aside for the sake of the sport so WEG sponsor Longines would have its name displayed.
TIEC, aside from grooms’ quarters and hotels, today looks about as ready for a WEG as any championship.
The media center is sometimes not among the top priorities for organizers of equestrian events.
The experience of this correspondent is that most events in Europe treat the media, spending their own money to stand for hours on end taking photos and making notes then hours throughout the night editing photos and stories before doing it all again a few hours later to keep fans around the world informed. Lunch and dinner breaks are typically spent working. To stand in line with spectators to get food or a drink means no work, so most go hungry and thirsty. A tiny handful of events in the United States, such as at Wellington and some in Southern California, recognize this. Some don’t. Some in America don’t even provide a space to put down a laptop computer, and definitely not a chair to sit on.
Tryon was among the best for the more than 800 media representatives of the several WEGs, Olympics and other championships in the past two decades, in the opinion of this correspondent. The 2006 WEG in Aachen, Germany set the standard, though,
Meals, coffee, snacks throughout the competition days along with support staff that were enlisted from both the United States and Europe. Facilities were clearly temporary but the services and support made the long hours a pleasure. Certainly more so than most World Games. including those in Normandy in 2014 that go down among us perennial media types as probably the least liked, though the citizens of Caen and its restaurants were fantastic and the nearby D-Day beaches provided an emotional experience of a lifetime.
Kentucky in 2010 had inedible food for which the media had to stand in line to pay for, charges in early days for basic services like start lists, horribly over-priced hotel rooms.
And, of course, no one will forget the totally botched Endurance competition–some riders and horses were sent the wrong way at the start. No championship.
A special spectator pavilion was built for the Endurance that was dubbed jokingly as the Sheikh’s Shack, a play on phrase for the American hamburger chain Shake Shack.