By Bonnie & Bill Neely
Tryon Equestrian Center at Mill Spring, a town of 1,700 residents in Southwestern North Carolina, offers so very much for family fun every day throughout the year. This amazing horse center was in early building stages in 2014 when Mark Bellissimo spearheaded the project to be completed in time to host the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™, an International Equestrian Olympics event which takes place in a select location somewhere in the world every fourth year. This is one of the largest and most prestigious competitions in any sports calendar in the world! The tiny towns of Mill Spring and Tryon are galloping ahead to be the center of attention and excitement for horse enthusiasts the world over and International news coverage on NBC, this September 10 – 23, 2018, for this stupendous event!
Did you know horses can fly???? It is astonishing to realize these large animals are transported all over the world by air freight, and the details of arranging their safe and healthy transport to this event are mind-boggling! Depending on their country of origin many will be quarantined for three days upon arrival, but some must be quarantined for as much as 60 days upon arrival to ensure none transmit diseases. A healthy vet report is the absolute necessity for participation in these thrilling events.
Charlotte or Asheville, NC, and Greenville/Spartanburg, SC, airports, the three airports within about an hour of the Equestrian Center, will be quite busy. GSP is the airport at which horses coming from Europe will arrive on planes which depart from Liege, Belgium. Some owners of European origin may instead choose to have New York JFK airport as their port of entry. Horses from Australia and Asia will arrive in the USA in Chicago; those from Central and South America will arrive in the Miami airport. The horses will each be sent by trucks to Tryon where they will be checked thoroughly by veterinarians and quarantined for a time depending on their country of origin and their health.
The entire surrounding areas have been preparing for months to host this enormous and exciting event. Construction workers have battled unusually heavy spring rains to get the highways widened, facilities constructed for the four-legged visitors, and the lodging at Tryon completed. But upper South Carolina and lower North Carolina are no strangers to hosting thousands of guests, since it was one of the best locations on earth to view the solar eclipse in 2017, and hundreds of thousands of people came from all over the world to view this major Heavenly event. But horses! That is another matter requiring GREAT preparation! For this FEI World Equestrian Games™ event 1,200 horses and a half million visitors are
Mark Bellissimo is CEO of United States Precision Construction and Tryon International Equestrian Center. Tryon Equestrian Center Partners, Lisa Lourie and Roger Smith, are both residents of the area. The Bellissimo family love horses, and they wanted to make this a family-friendly venue year-round. And IT IS! In an interview with Dale Leatherman Bellissimo said he “created an open atmosphere where spectators can comfortably enjoy the talent of horses and riders…In addition to the championship competitions in world-class venues, the World Equine Expo (at the FEW World Equestrian Games™) will be an interactive site for vendors, demonstrations, clinics, and discussions. We’re also thrilled about our partnership with NBC, which will leverage unprecedented national and international broadcast coverage for equestrian sport.”
On a normal day at the Tryon Center some visitors come expecting the cost of tickets to be very high for an afternoon or evening of watching horsey events. Bill and I were astonished to discover that every day during throughout the year all events are free to visitors of all ages, since it is the Bellissimo family’s vision is to make the fun of horses clean, inviting, accessible and affordable to the general public and make it not just a venue for the wealthy. On our first visit there we spent a glorious Sunday afternoon dining at one of the restaurants on site, shopping in the many gear and gift shops with equine themes, and watching the jumper contests as the elegantly-clad riders on beautiful horses leaped over jumps decorated with fresh flowers. It was a glorious afternoon! However, tickets for the September Olympics must be purchased and are for sale online or by phone.
Children love not only seeing so many horses up close, but also find many activities to enjoy including kiddie food. There is all kinds of free family fun until dark, including: face painting, circus performers, dance contests, t-shirt tosses, free rides on the Venetian carousel and live bands, contests, sand building, magicians, acrobats, fire twirlers and more. And older children have fun on the mechanical bucking horse.
Saturday Night Lights is a fantastic evening most weeks. You can make reservations and purchase tickets for the special meal events that take place some Saturdays at 6 pm, or you can get seats for no cost to watch the evening horseback competitions in the Main Show Ring at 8 pm. This is such a wonderful place for your family’s equine education. Each week professional riders from many states bring their mounts to compete for big monetary prizes and the acclaim that goes with being the BEST in their field of expertise. We enjoyed watching the Dressage Competition and learning what the owners and trainers teach their horses to do. We never knew there are so many different kinds of riding experiences.