Tryon – This fall, horses will soar over five-foot jumps. A rider without hands or arms, holding the reins in her teeth, will steer a horse through an intricate, elegant ballet. Teams of flashy black or golden chestnut horses will race against the clock as they pull a carriage through through a creek, gallop around pylons and thunder across a bridge.
Families can enjoy world-class equestrian events for free at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) right here in the North Carolina foothills.
Located in Mill Springs, an hour from Asheville, TIEC has re-opened to the public. This September crowds gathered for Combined Driving Trials, Hunter/Jumper and Dressage Competitions. October begins with the Hunters again, competing over fences and on the flat in the Washington International Horse Show. The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Para Dressage National Championships comes to TIEC October 28-31.
While terms such as “hunter/jumper,” “dressage” or “combined driving” are common among horse enthusiasts, they can be confusing to those arriving in the foothills for simple family entertainment. Knowing what the terms on the TIEC event calendar mean can help spectators decide what events they wish to see.
Finding the right event
Hunter/Jumper: This was originally a competition for horses that foxhunted—a sport originating in England, in the early 1800s. Riders would follow hounds to view the fox or watch the hounds work. In today’s hunter competition, judges look for quiet, well-mannered, attractive horses that appear pleasant to ride, both over fences and on the flat (no jumps).
A hunter is a type of horse, not a breed. The most common breeds used for hunter competition include thoroughbreds, warmbloods, appendix quarter horses and draft crosses. Gaited horses (such as saddlebreds or walking horses) are not typically ridden in hunter classes.
Jumper: Jumpers are judged merely on whether they clear the fences in the correct order. A rider loses points if the horse knocks a rail down or refuses a jump. Each time more than one rider has a clear round, the jumps are raised and/or the riders are timed. Jumps can start as high as 5 feet 3 inches for the Grand Prix level competitions typically seen at TIEC).
Jumpers are also a type rather than a breed, though most are warmbloods or thoroughbreds.
Dressage: Dressage is a form of training originally developed by the Greeks in 535 B.C. It has often been called “ballet for horses” and is similar to the show performed by the White Lipizzaner Stallions of Vienna.
Dressage is judged on the precision and cooperation of the horse and rider as they perform several intricate maneuvers at the walk, trot and canter in a flat ring (arena). The horse must be strong and supple and the rider soft and subtle. Like Hunters, dressage horses are of no particular breed, but the most common breeds used are warmbloods and thoroughbreds.
Para dressage is ridden by those with an eligible permanent physical impairment such as no hands, a missing leg, etc.
Three Day Eventing harkens back to the heyday of the cavalry when troopers challenged each other to jump over cars or ride over the roof of a barn. The event began as a test for cavalry troopers and horses who had to go anywhere, through almost anything and get there fast.
Today the competition consists of a dressage ride to test the rider’s skill and the horse’s cooperation, a cross-country jumping competition to test endurance and jumping ability over natural fences, and a stadium jumping test over jumps in the ring. Horses used for eventing are typically the bigger, faster breeds such as thoroughbreds, warmbloods, appendix quarter horses or draft crosses.
One of the most exciting of equestrian competitions, combined driving harkens back to the chariot races of ancient Rome. The competition consists of a dressage test, obstacle cones and the marathon. The dressage test with a single horse and driver is similar to a ridden dressage test. Horses pull a carriage through several intricate maneuvers at the walk, trot and canter. Drivers dress in traditional Victorian era clothing, and are judged on precision and accuracy, the relaxation and cooperation of their horses and their overall turnout and presentation (how they look).
The obstacle cone test also dates back to the charioteers of ancient times as drivers race through a course of cones topped by tennis balls. One step, one hoof or wheel out of place, and the tennis ball rolls away, subtracting points from the competitor. Drivers are timed and can lose points if they finish with too fast or too slow a time.
Possibly the most exciting of all three combined driving tests, the marathon, is a race against the clock with four horses pulling a carriage through an outside course. The horses must navigate bridges and creeks and race around obstacles and pylons, all the while working together to be precise and accurate so as not to overturn the carriage, strike an obstacle or lose too much time.
TIEC includes the cowboys
While many of the events at TIEC are focused on English riding (originating in Europe using a flat saddle with no horn) the cowboys have their day as well. Western events, such as reining, have become a popular competition in the Olympics and horses come from all over the world to compete here in the foothills.
Reining originates from the cowboys’ work on the cattle ranges of the old west. In an exciting competition, the horses race around the arena, slide to a stop, spin and take off at full gallop in the opposite direction. Horses are judged on accuracy, correctness, cooperation and ease of control.
Quarter horses make the best reining horses as they are bred for short bursts of speed and quick maneuvers used in working cattle.
While reining is not on the calendar this fall, fans can check for future competitions online at www./tryon.coth.com/events.
For the Family
TIEC hasn’t forgotten the non-riders in their schedule of fall fun. Family activities include Saturday Night Lights October 9, 16, 23 and 30. Free children’s activities include face-painting, performers, free rides on the Venetian carousel, along with a live band and Grand Prix level show jumping for the adults.
October weekends are all about Halloween with the Carolina Pumpkin Spelltacular. Events include the Midway Monster Party, the Harvest Village and Pumpkin Patch, the KidZone Trick-or-Treat Play Area, the Enchanted Pumpkin Hollow, the terrifying Gold Rush Haunted Mine and, of course, thousands of pumpkins.
October ends with a tribute to Diversity in Equestrian Sports, featuring a Tom Bass Seminar Saturday, October 30.
November offers a chance for foot runners to try the spectacular Foothills trails without the horses. November 20-21 features the Carolinas Spartan Ultra, Beast, and Sprint Weekend featuring the Carolinas Spartan Trail 10K, Half Marathon and 50K.
TIEC is just down the mountain at 25 International Blvd., Mill Spring, N.C. Follow Interstate Highway 26 east and take the Tryon/Shelby/Rutherforton exit onto U.S. Highway 74 and stay to the left. Take the Pea Ridge exit and TIEC will be on your left. Bring an umbrella, just in case, because the best events are outdoors. For more information visit