Tryon, North Carolina, A Gem In World’s Best Horse Shows

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Canada's Chris von Martels competing at the first Tryon CDI. © 2016 Ken Braddick/
Canada’s Chris von Martels competing at the first Tryon CDI. © 2016 Ken Braddick/


MILL SPRING, North Carolina, May 4, 2016–In what is likely the largest investment in horse sports anywhere in the world, an equestrian community is being created at a cost that will approach a quarter billion (yes, billion with a “b”) in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina that most Americans let alone the rest of the world even knew existed until a couple of years ago.

Riders at the first international dressage show at the recent Tryon International Equestrian Center were too amazed to express the typical compliments for a new show–“Wow, just wow” from Canada’s Ashley Holzer; from Catherine Haddad-Staller an admitted die-hard fan of the CHIO at Aachen, Germany: “I hate to say it because I love Aachen so much but this is the best in the world.”

There is no denying the evidence and in the typical American way, Tryon is privately funded by a group put together by horse show impresario Mark Bellissimo responsible for the birth of the Global Dressage Festival and re-birth of the Winter Equestrian Festival of jumpers and hunters.

See the photo layout:

Tryon will host a second CDI this year,  a 3* Sept, 9-11 that riders are marking on their schedule ahead of the Global circuit in Florida.

Built to last and with unexpected horse show features such as mobile phone charging stations, permanent bathrooms and wooden vendor building–no tents–has led to pleas from dressage competitors in Florida that the Global grounds to be built at the newly acquired International Polo Club match those in North Carolina.

Mark told he plans to create in Wellington  a centerpiece stadium slightly narrower but longer than the main Tryon arena to make it more intimate for dressage. The George Morris stadium in Tryon seats 6,000, three times more than the existing Wellington spectator stands.

With $100 million already invested and at least another $100 million to be spent over the next two years, Tryon has become a landmark venue.

It is not just a horse show, it a lifestyle on show grounds that cover 1,400 acres (566 Ha) with 1,200 permanent stables–Aachen can accommodate a total of 950 horses.

Six competition arenas, each with warmup rings, and more are being added, all with the same Olympic quality footing installed at Wellington with its iconic coral color.

A jumper derby field of nine acres (3.65Ha) makes it one of the largest grass competition arenas in the world. A Tuff-Turf grass developed specially is three times longer lasting than typical grass is being installed.

Dressage and jumper/hunters are not the only competitors.

The American eventing championships are scheduled for September with a course designed by Mark Phillips. He designed the course for the Wellington Invitational the past two years that showcased eventing with big prize money in Wellington for the first time in the hotbed of dressage and jumpers.

Trucks working around the clock to prepare the course for the American eventing championships. © 2016 Ken Braddick/
Trucks working around the clock to prepare the course for the American eventing championships. © 2016 Ken Braddick/

The United States Pony Club Championships East wil be staged here the last week of July.

For those who hanker for typical horse show food, forget it.

Several restaurants exist on the grounds–a classic New Jersey eatery, Roger’s Diner;  high end Legends club; sushi, subs, coffee shop, barbecue, cafeteria style and an ice cream parlor. Full service Italian and Mexican restaurants are scheduled to open by summer.

The restaurants stay open even when there are no horse shows because of demand from the locals.

A once a week farmers’ market offering fresh produce is another innovation for the show grounds and gaining support from area agricultural producers that translate to more horse show fans.

From surrounding states as well as the Tryon area busloads of tourists descend on the Tryon grounds daily. The state governor has declared his job is to clear obstacles to development, a stark contrast to Wellington until recent elections returned an equestrian-friendly government..

Most Americans, let alone the rest of the world, had ever heard of the Tryon area known more for backpacking, native bird and animal watching in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains.

That is, until Mark was convinced by Roger Smith, a founding partner in the takeover and development of the Winter Equestrian Festival and Global Dressage Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, that Tryon could become, well… what it has become.

Mark put together a group of investors as he did in Wellington for the WEF jumper/hunter competitions and the Global dressage circuit over 12 weeks of winter that have become the world’s horse sport destination from January through March.

Tryon International Equestrian Center was created as the centerpiece of a resort.

Other activities are set up for those who don’t want to spend a day watching horses ride in circles or leap the same jumps–an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a clay shooting range (not within earshot of dressage competitors).

There’s live music on Friday nights at one of the restaurants .

To show how serious Mark Bellissimo is about Tryon, he has bought a 160,000 square-foot factory near the show grounds and imported the latest computerized equipment to produce condominium housing. Several units ranging from$600,000 to $1.2 million have already been sold.

On-site permanent housing is available–59 one to three bedroom cabins, 100 recreational vehicle spaces plus an upscale motel.