How will the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Mill Spring, NC, impact the Upstate?

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Upstate business leaders aren’t putting the cart before the horse, but they are champing at the bit to see what kind of impact one of the world’s largest equestrian events will have on the region.

The Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, N.C., will host the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG) Sept. 11-23.

TIEC officials said the event could attract more than 1,000 riders, 1,500 horses, and 500,000 spectators from 70 countries, and have a $400 million economic impact in Western North Carolina and the Upstate.

“We’re excited for our neighbors in Tryon [N.C.] to host the World Equestrian Games late this summer,” said John Lummus, president and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance. “While the core action will occur in North Carolina, the event’s location within the greater ‘Charlanta’ region is a great testament to the transportation connectivity, beautiful climate, and hospitable environment this area has to offer.

“We anticipate a great deal of eyes will be on Tryon and nearby communities like Asheville [N.C.], Greenville, Spartanburg, and the surrounding retreats. The event draws 500,000 attendees from throughout the globe,” Lummus added. “Because the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is the designated airport of entry for the games, we anticipate a great deal of economic impact as visitors explore our region’s additional amenities.”

Hotel operators in Greenville and Spartanburg counties said room blocks allocated for visitors of the games are filling up fast.

The local tourism industry is abuzz.

“This could quite easily be the largest multiday spectator event between Charlotte and Atlanta, which will certainly benefit Spartanburg County in terms of hotel and restaurant spending,” said Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We plan to work closely with our tourism partners to welcome WEG visitors, showcase all that our community has to offer, and make sure they want to come back again to visit and explore.”

So, what exactly are the games all about?

FEI, the world’s governing body of equestrian sports, describes the games as the major international championship for eight core equestrian disciplines.

Founded in 1990, the event is held every four years in the middle of the Olympic cycle, similar to the World Cup in soccer.

The disciplines are show jumping, dressage, para-equestrian dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting, and reining.

In layman’s terms, show jumping involves a course where horse and rider must jump over a series of obstacles. They are judged on their performance and the time it takes them to complete the course.

Dressage includes multiple tests that each involve a series of movements that must be performed by the horse and rider.

Para-equestrian dressage is similar to traditional dressage, but the riders who compete have some form of physical impairment.

Eventing is basically a triathlon that includes dressage, show jumping, and a cross-country test designed to “prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles,” according to the U.S. Eventing Association.

Driving is similar to eventing, but it involves one or more horses pulling a carriage driven by “drivers” through three phases, including dressage, cross-country marathon, and obstacle/cone driving.

Endurance is a timed long-distance competition across different types of terrain. FEI said the emphasis is on “finishing in good condition rather than coming in first.”

Vaulting, according to the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF), is like gymnastics on horseback. Competitors are “judged on their ability to smoothly execute compulsory movements” during their routines.

USEF said reining “shows off the skills and athletic abilities necessary in the working ranch horse, but does so within the confines of a show pen.”

Winners receive gold, silver, and bronze medals.

Past games have been held in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany, the U.S., and, most recently, France.

This will be the second time the games have been held in the U.S. The first was in 2010 in Kentucky.

How did the games land in Tryon?

In 2012, Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP), an investment group composed of several families, purchased the White Oak golf community in Polk County near Tryon via bankruptcy sale for $11 million.

The Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, N.C.

The group, led by Harvard Business School graduate and equestrian enthusiast Mark Bellissimo, then purchased additional acreage and began moving forward with a vision to create one of the world’s premier equestrian lifestyle destinations.

TIEC, which officially opened in 2015, is the focal point of TEP’s 1,600-acre Tryon Resort.

The group describes the resort as a “spring, summer, and fall haven for equestrian competitors and enthusiasts, and a year-round destination for connoisseurs of diverse cuisine and shopping, lodging getaways, and family entertainment.”

In August 2016, TEP submitted a bid to host WEG after a lack of funding forced the withdrawal of Bromont, Quebec, as the host venue.

Its bid was secured in November of that year.

What’s the big picture?

Officials have said WEG is anticipated to be this nation’s highest attended sporting event in 2018 and the fourth largest in the world behind the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the World Cup in Russia, and the Tour de France.

TIEC spokeswoman Kathryn McMahon said the 13-day event could draw in 50,000 to 60,000 people per day.

In December, NBC Sports Group announced it had reached an agreement for exclusive multiplatform U.S. media rights to the games.

The group said the agreement includes “an unprecedented amount of national equestrian coverage.”

The Olympic Channel will present more than 50 hours of coverage, while NBC and NBCSN will combine for almost 15 hours of live coverage from TIEC, according to NBC Sports Group.

Coverage will be streamed live on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com, and the Olympic Channel app.

Bellissimo said in a statement that the 2014 games held in France attracted a cumulative global broadcast audience of 350 million.

Is there anything more for spectators?

In February, Bellissimo announced WEG will be accompanied by three unique fixtures, including the inaugural World Equine Expo, the WEQx Games, and World Horse Day.

The collective event theme is “Celebrate the Horse, Celebrate the Sport,” which focuses on the connection between horses and mankind.

The expo is designed to be an annual event that honors, celebrates, and promotes horses and horsemanship, Bellissimo said.

It will include a trade fair, demonstrations, educational seminars, clinics, panel, an equine art and film festival, and competitions on topics that support global equestrianism.

Bellissimo said the WEQx Games, which will also be included in the expo, are spectator-friendly equine competitions that highlight the accessibility, diversity, athleticism, and passion for horse sports for athletes of all ages.

The ultimate goal of the WEQx games will be “finding formats that promote personal, spectator, and commercial interest in equestrian sport,” Bellissimo said.

World Horse Day will debut at the expo with a charity gala.

“World Horse Day will be the ultimate celebration of the horse, an animal that has supported humans since the beginning of time,” Bellissimo said in a statement. “While often an unsung hero, this incredible animal is overdue for its turn in the spotlight. World Horse Day honors the horse and its unparalleled contribution to our world.”

TIEC said more details about the three events will be available in the coming weeks.

More information about tickets, scheduling, volunteer opportunities, lodging and hospitality opportunities, vendors, and sponsors can be found at www.tryon2018.com.

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