Charlotte may have the Panthers, and Raleigh the Hurricanes, but Polk County is poised to host what could be the largest sporting event in North Carolina history. Thirteen days this September, just under a half-million spectators are expected to attend the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games. That’s right. You’ve probably never heard of it, but the largest horsing event in the world is heading for the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, just under an hour north of downtown Greenville.
Like the Olympics, these games are held every four years. This will be only the second time they’ve moved from Europe—the first was in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2010. The 2014 games in Normandy, France, lured 984 athletes, 1,234 horses, 1,900 media from 52 countries, while delivering $400 million in revenue to that region of France. “We’ve sold tickets in all 50 states and 27 countries,” shares TIEC’s chief operating officer Sharon Decker. “This is such a marvelous opportunity for us to host the games right here in the Carolinas.”
Construction crews have galloped across Tryon, which raced to bid on the games two short years ago, after original host city, Quebec, Canada, backed out with funding issues. A village to house the world has popped up around TIEC’s 1,200 stables, 13 rings, and Rolex Clock Tower. It’s difficult to walk the grounds and not hear rumors of big names that may be in attendance, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—better known as royal newlyweds, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Those hoping to rub elbows with elite riders and fans can grab a Grounds Pass for $20. Tickets are also available to individual events, as well as one- and two-week passes, the latter running at $1,380.
FEI World Equestrian Games, September 11–23. 25 International Blvd, Mill Spring, NC; tryon2018.com
When the FEI World Equestrian Games come to Mill Spring, spectators will have the opportunity to view the eight core equestrian disciplines. Don’t make it look like it’s your first rodeo—because it’s not a rodeo at all. Here’s what the Olympic-caliber horses and riders will be running:
Think ballet on a horse, with a scoring system similar to ice-skating. Each team covers the ring in a series of intricate patterns, showcasing the bond between rider and animal.
Showcasing the true, human spirit, the same dressage guidelines apply, with competitors grouped by functional abilities.
The adrenaline-shot of the games. This high-octane spectacle features thundering hooves as teams of riders guide four horses pulling a carriage across three phases of competition.
The only Western discipline at the games, featuring flying lead changes, 360-degree spins, and sliding stops.
A 100-mile race against the clock, testing speed and stamina through the Foothills surrounding the center.
Courage, control, and technical maneuvers showcase each pair’s ability to clear a series of fences that can be five feet tall, with a six-foot gap.
The triathlon of riding, with the same horse and rider competing in dressage, cross-country, and jumping across three days.
Gymnastics on top of a horse, with individual, team, and freestyle events.