World Equestrian Games Main Competition Arena Under Construction Four Weeks to Tryon Horse Sports Extravaganza
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Aug. 14, 2018
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
The World Equestrian Games main arena was well under construction Tuesday with installation of critically important competition footing with four weeks to go to the opening of one of the globe’s biggest sports extravaganza and 19 days before horses from Europe start arriving in Tryon, North Carolina.
The main arena being built as a temporary facility to seat 20,000 spectators for dressage and jumping for the Games Sept. 11 to 23 has been designed to create an intimate “bowl” atmosphere with a spectacular permanent three-story VIP and media center nearing completion on one side.
The main arena and the VIP/media center are among the last pieces being prepared for the WEG on 1,700 acres (688ha) in western North Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area is known for warm Southern hospitality, beautiful scenery and a history that includes the fabulous Biltmore Estate built in America’s Gilded Age in nearby Asheville as a vacation getaway for George Vanderbilt.
The Tryon International Equestrian Center that is hosting the WEG is itself an estate for horse sports on which an estimated quarter billion dollars of private funding has been spent creating permanent show grounds for all eight international disciplines–dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining, vaulting and para dressage–and more such as arena polo.
Up to 1,000 horses are expected from around the world for the combined championships that were launched in 1990 with the goal of a grand event once every four years. The first event in Stockholm was less than half the size with fewer than 500 horse and rider combinations and did not include reining and para dressage that have since have been added to the lineup.
The Tryon organizing committee and investors led by Mark Bellissimo who also heads up groups owning the Global Dressage Festival and Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, the Colorado Horse Park and stages the Central Park Horse Show, saved this year’s WEG. A Canadian group that had been awarded the Games pulled out blaming high costs and lack of government financial support. Mark Bellissimo stepped in with barely two years to go–and unlike most countries, no government funding.
All of the fixed stadium events at Tryon are virtually within a few minutes walking distance from one another.
Reining and vaulting will be held in a massive completely enclosed competition arena, stabling and spectator area covering about 300,000 square feet (27,870 sq. meters).
Eventing dressage and para dressage will be in the original main stadium, separated from the new temporary main stadium by the VIP/media center that provides unobstructed views of both arenas.
All three dressage competitions–Grand Prix for team medals, Grand Prix Special for individual awards and the Grand Prix Freestyle–as well as eventing stadium jumping to decide team and individual medals for that discipline as well as both team and individual jumping competitions will be in the main stadium.
The two WEGs that have occurred since the 2006 championships in Aachen, Germany and expanded to include para dressage were less than successful–Lexington with extortionate hotel rates, the need to pass around the hat for donations after the Games ran out of cash the first week despite massive taxpayer funding to rebuild the Kentucky Horse Park and sponsorship from the deep pockets of Alltech, and Normandy four years later that was a widely separated mish-mash of competitions with sub-par facilities and services for vitally important grooms and media as well as spectators.
Tryon may be the last of the eight WEGs as they have developed in the past 18 years. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the Lausanne, Switzerland governing body of horse sports that owns the event, has already made it known it is re-considering the future format of championships. The 2022 Games have not been awarded.