NC hosts World Equestrian Games

The 13-day event, which started Tuesday night in Mill Spring with opening ceremonies, comes to North America for just the second time

In this aerial photo taken on Sept. 21, 2010, a giant corn field maze at the Kelley Farms welcomes the riders for the World Equestrian Games, in Lexington, Ky. It's referred to as the Super Bowl of equestrian competition. The World Equestrian Games are scheduled to kick off Wednesday at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring. They run through Sept. 23. The games feature more than 600 equestrians from 71 countries and six continents competing in eight different disciplines. The event is expected to attract more than 500,000 people. (Charles Bertram / The Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

The Tryon International Equestrian Center in western North Carolina has become known as one of the finest facilities of its kind in the United States.

Over the next two weeks, its reputation will grow to worldwide proportions when Mill Spring hosts the FEI World Equestrian Games.

Tryon is only the second American venue to hold the major international championship event, joining the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which hosted in 2010. Other previous hosts include Stockholm (1990), The Hague, Netherlands (1994), Rome (1998), Jerez de la Frontera, Spain (2002), Aachen, Germany (2006), and Normandy, France (2014).

Held once every four years in the middle of the Summer Olympic cycle, the prestigious event features competition in eight core equestrian disciplines — show jumping, dressage and para-equestrian dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting and reining.

With more than 800 human athletes from 70 countries and their horses expected to compete, and upward of 500,000 spectators attending, the World Equestrian Games has the potential to be the largest sporting event ever held in North Carolina.

“The vision of Tryon Resort was to create a world-class equestrian lifestyle destination, but also re-energize a community that was impacted by a relocation of the textile industry,” Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners, said in a statement. “Visions are plentiful, but the challenge is always in the execution and this collective team has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make this vision a reality.”

The World Equestrian Games began with a gala opening ceremony on Tuesday, featuring remarks from Gov. Roy Cooper and a performance by country recording artist Hunter Hayes. Actual competition was scheduled to kick off on Wednesday with the Endurance race — a long-distance test using pace and navigational skills over an undulating 100-mile cross-country course.

Also on the schedule over the next dozen days are medal events in:

• Dressage, a highly skilled form of riding performed sometimes compared to ballet on horseback;

• Driving, a high-octane sport involving a carriage pulled by four horses;

• Eventing, one of the three Olympic equestrian disciplines and the triathlon of the equestrian world. It features a combination of dressage, cross-country and jumping over the course of three days;

• Para-Equestrian Dressage, a Paralympic sport with riders competing in divisions based on their functional abilities;

• Reining, a sport born in the American Southwest, featuring team and individual competitions in which riders guide their horses through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops;

• Show jumping, another Olympic discipline, features riders guiding their horses over a number of differing obstacles around a course held in Tryon’s 20,000-seat arena;

• And Vaulting, which is similar to gymnastics on horseback with team, individual and freestyle on the back of a cantering horse, traveling in a circle.

In addition to the games, the World Equine Expo will also be held at Tryon over the next two weeks, with demonstrations, seminars, clinics, panel discussions, equine art and film festival, concerts and other activities planned.

As with most other events scheduled in North Carolina this weekend, organizers are closely monitoring Hurricane Florence. Updates on possible postponements, along with information on ticket sales and results, can be found at