They finally got it right.
Less than two years before the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games, the FEI has chosen the Tryon, N.C. International Equestrian Center as the venue for the quadrennial eight-discipline extravaganza.
The state-of-the-art facility on a 1,600-acre site in the foothills of the Blue Mountains offers 12 arenas (including a 5,000-seat covered arena), numerous warm-up areas, 1,060 permanent stalls, and a variety of amenities–including restaurants and lodging–as well as a team that knows how to put on a show.
Concern about the weather on the original August dates for the competition has prompted a move for the fixture to Sept. 10-23, 2018, when the climate will be more amenable, following guidelines of studies commissioned by the FEI.
For several years, the FEI struggled to make things work with the original WEG bid winner Bromont, Quebec, but the money to back the project just wasn’t there, and the Canadian government had no interest in helping out. Tryon’s facilities are far superior to what Bromont could offer, while administrations in both North and South Carolina are supporting the Tryon effort, expected to be a huge driver of the economy in the area.
It all spells a prospect of huge success for the WEG, which is important for the event’s future going beyond 2018.
There have been several less-than-optimum experiences with the WEG since it began in Stockholm with great acclaim in 1990. Some have suggested the concept is unwieldy and should be replaced by the old method of holding individual world championships, or where possible, teaming two or three disciplines, rather than eight.
However, in making the Tryon announcement, FEI President Ingmar de Vos emphaized, “The FEI is 100 percent committeed to the FEI World Equestrian Games concept.”
Concern was expressed that as Bromont faltered, the WEG would be moved out of North America, which has only hosted the WEG once (Kentucky, 2010) since it debuted. A facility in Slovakia was also mentioned as a contender, but it is not as developed as the Tryon site which is coupled with a resort. Already, $125 million has been spent on the property, with more to come.
The managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners is Mark Bellissimo, who also is behind Wellington, Fla.’s, Winter Equestrian Festival, which in effect is the world’s largest horse show.
“Mark and his group are going to do an excellent job. We’re really looking forward to bringing the world here to the U.S. and really promoting the sports here in our country. It was a primary driver for us, to keep it in North America,” said U.S. Equestrian Federation President Chrystine Tauber.
FEI First Vice President John Madden observed, “From what I understand from everybody, the venue is fantastic and their bid was excellent and I’m very happy for the FEI that we’re going to have such a great venue for such an important championship. It’s wonderful that these championships can move (to different) continents and I think it’s very important we spread our sport all over the world.”
Eric Straus, secretary-general of the Pan American Equestrian Confederation, noted that awarding the WEG to Tryon was, “the only reasonable decision they could make, because the facility is pretty much built out, there are hotels available within a one-hour driving radius, you’ve got commitments by two state governments, you’ve got three airports. It’s dead easy.”
Competitor enthusiasm is high; after all, what’s not to like?
“I think it’s super to have a big championship in our country. It’s a great facility. The more we can bring to America, the better,” said show jumper Margie Goldstein-Engle, who has been showing at Tryon.
Mark stated, “We are confident that our partnership and our operating team will create a memorable experience for all involved, with the ultimate goal of significantly elevating horse sport in the U.S. beyond the 27 million people who ride a horse at least once a year.”
Originally, Mark had hoped to host the Games at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, but there were many reasons why that suburban community wasn’t the right place for it. Not only is Tryon horse country, the ability to have everything on one site is guaranteed to make the WEG run smoothly, as it did in Aachen in 2006, which held the best WEG to date. Far-flung venues for several of the disciplines involved led to traffic and transportation problems in Normandy, France, at the last WEG in 2014, where a lack of organization contributed to the problems.
The WEG includes the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage and eventing, as well as reining, endurance, vaulting, four-in-hand driving and para-dressage. It requires enormous expertise to coordinate all of them in a schedule that enables spectators to see as much of each of them as possible, which is one of the reasons the WEG was developed.
The Bellissimo team has the expertise to do it right. The group’s track record of rising to challenges includes running the Central Park Horse Show, in a venue where many said such a competition couldn’t be done. The September show in Manhattan was the third annual, and it’s going strong.
It’s also a good sign that things were able to be worked out on the sponsor front. Rolex is a sponsor at Tryon, while Longines, another luxury watch company, is the FEI’s major sponsor. There was concern expressed in discussions about the WEG that one being identified with a site would preclude the other, but compromise obviously prevailed for the good of the sport.