Memories of the Decade 2000: Changes in local horse community through decade

Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The past decade has seen tremendous growth and increased vitality in the horse community. When I chose to move here for the horses, one of the stats that was most appealing to me was the fact that horse feed and tack stores outnumbered grocery stores. From the start, I have not been disappointed. The horse country of the foothills is one of the best in the country and the past decade has seen tremendous growth and improvement.

One of the most outstanding, albeit haunting, events of the decade was the tragic Green Creek Hounds barn fire in November 2001. Six horses and a mother hound with puppies died, with Marge Warders horse Monty being the only survivor. News of the tragedy was felt in all corners of the horse community and throughout the southeast.

Other changes came to foxhunting circles during the past years. Greenville County Hounds, founded by Gordon Wright, suffered dwindling membership in recent years and finally merged with another local hunt in 2005. The hunt had operated under the leadership of Gerald Pack for years. Huntsmen Michael Purdy and Jordan Hicks cut their teeth under Mr. Packs guidance, and went on to work professionally for hunts in New York and Florida. Jordan Hicks is currently the huntsman for Tryon Hounds. The two remaining hunts, Tryon Hounds and Green Creek Hounds, continue to prosper and carry on the tradition.

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The area saw an addition of more equine vets and the expansion of the surgical hospital. Bonnie Brae became Tryon Equine and is one of the most respected equine hospitals in the country. The accessibility to excellent equine health care continues to grow. The area now claims more than a dozen equine vet professionals.

Horse sports also expanded during the decade. Professional competitors came to the area for its year round climate and affordable land. Beth Perkins and Amy Barrington both moved their training operations from the west coast. Jennifer Beaumert, a nationally recognized dressage rider and trainer, picked up stakes and made the move to the foothills.

The show schedule has expanded over the past ten years. The renovation of Harmon Field has been a boon to tourism and added competition events. Noreen Cothran and The Farm House almost single handedly put together a program of schooling shows which benefitted Harmon Field and its equestrian facilities. Raising $188,000 for Harmon Field, the old barns were renovated and new rings were added. Today, Harmon Field has never looked better.

FENCE also witnessed growth and expansion with the addition of three new barns, a covered arena and the covered arena. FENCE has hosted a full year round calendar of recognized rated shows as well as schooling and clinic events.

Tryon Riding and Hunt announced its plans to build a competition park with a new steeplechase track in Green Creek with ground breaking beginning this fall. The new park is expected to be ready for competitions in 2011.

Personal training has also come along way, witnessed by the rapid growth of private covered arenas in Polk County alone. In 1990, there were five covered arenas for private use, but by 2009, the number has exploded to 22. This in itself is an indication of the rapid growth of serious riders, whether professional or recreational, in the area.

Currently, the area has an estimated 18 equine related clubs and organizations. This includes discipline groups like Blue Ridge Hunter Jumper Association, Foothills Riding Club and Carolina Carriage Club with trail organizations like Foothills Equestrian Trial Association, Collinsville Equestrian Trail Association, Gowansville Equestrian Trail Association and North Pacolet Association. It has become evident that the trail system is a major draw and has been dubbed our waterfront. We can also boast two mounted historical reenactment companies, a therapeutic riding organization, two fox hunts and two area Pony Clubs.

With the growth in horse activities comes the proliferation in equine-related enterprises. Not only do we have our own local equine publication, Appointments, founded by Suzanne Williams in 2004 and now owned by the Bulletin, but we now have quite a few local equine artists, photographers and writers.

Our business community has seen a surge in entrepreneurial businesses. From TallyHo Fudge, to equine chiropractors, to farm sitting services to horse trailer dealerships to horse blanket repair, area folks have carved out a piece of the economic pie from the horse community. The first comprehensive equine directory of services published in 2008 documented the surprising number of agri-based businesses that are flourishing here.

Our high school and community college have both seen the value of adding equine science studies to the curriculum. We even have students who have moved here just to take advantage of our animal science educational opportunities.

Finally, in the spring of 2007, our county hosted the first national Equine Economic Summit with attendance from across the country. In 2009, a strategic plan was assembled to provide a map to future expansion and capitalization of the areas horse industry. Many of the recommendations in the strategic plan center on responsible rural land use as well as supporting our equine businesses and recognizing equine-based tourism as a major component of the area economy.

In the past decade, our horse country has grown and prospered. It has provided employment in a place that has seen its share of lost jobs. Many of our new community leaders, our philanthropists and our volunteers have landed here because of our reputation as a center of equestrian life. With growth, naturally there are growing pains. Land costs have risen but as a rule horse people tend to be good conservationists and stewards of open land. And sometimes theres a little rub between varying needs and interests, but all in all, its been a good decade with good growth.

Editors Note: The TDB has asked for area residents memories of the most significant events and people of the decade just now passing, the 00s. If you would like to share your thoughts on the decades most memorable events, please send them to attn: Memories.