The Block House Steeplechase: A community effort

Published 2:40 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Photo by Erik Olsen Photography

Photo by Erik Olsen Photography

Although Tryon Riding & Hunt Club has hosted the Block House Steeplechase for 68 years, the event wouldn’t be possible without volunteers from around the community. Many of them help with advance planning and more than 100 are on duty the day of the races. Here are just a few of the ways your friends and neighbors make the Block House a success each year.

Working with professional land surveyors and engineers, Gabriel D. Brown and his brothers calculate a parking plan for 1,500 spaces that will need to criss-cross hillside, infield and show rings. A week before the race, this crew, armed with stakes, measures and marks off all the designated spots.

Volunteer Etchy Young made it easier for attendees to reserve their spots this year by improving the selection and ordering process on, adding detailed parking area maps, pricing pop-ups, and an inventory that’s updated every half hour as spots are spoken for.

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On the day of the races, Kiwanis members have been greeting drivers and directing them to parking areas for years. Volunteers from the River Valley Pony Club will also be at the gates and around the grounds offering programs with the day’s schedule.

Twenty volunteer ham radio operators, organized by Kirk Bowden, supplement official communication channels by covering the track and beyond, watching for issues large and small, from delays to loose horses to a child wandering up a hillside or taking a tumble.

With their efforts coordinated by Polk County EMS, the Polk and Landrum Rescue Squads will be on the grounds all day, as will the members of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Columbus Fire Department. The Polk Equine Emergency Rescue (PEER) ambulance will be on hand to transport horses, if needed, as determined by official course vet, Tryon Equine.

Two volunteer barn stewards coordinate all activities at the Kidd Barn, where the professional racehorses are stabled, and the infield barn for horses in pre-race exhibitions or running in the Foxhunters Cup amateur race.

Providing extra eyes for the race stewards from the National Steeplechase Association are a volunteer team of patrol judges, jump marshals and placing judges, all coordinated by 20-year Block House volunteer J. Kelly Murphy.

Volunteers also provide all of the pre-race entertainment and activities, including the Polk County Veterans Honor Guard, Green Creek Miniature Horses, the Shea Rose Vaulters of Waxhaw, the Old Tryon Foot Beagles, and the Parade of Green Creek Hounds. Father Mickey Mugan of Holy Cross Episcopal Church of Tryon will give the blessing of the day, local student Emily Kocher will sing the national anthem, and Joey Pullara will be the race bugler.

Volunteer announcers and judges coordinate and pick winners for the tailgate and hat contests, with WSPA Chief Meteorologist Christie Henderson emceeing the hat contest this year. River Valley Pony Club volunteers organize the popular Stick Horse Races for kids of all ages, with proceeds benefiting RVPC activities.

The most adventurous volunteers are the local amateur riders who race in the crowd-favorite “Foxhunters Cup” following the professional races. With the possibility of the field including Thoroughbreds, non-Thoroughbred and ponies, the race is thrilling and fun for the crowd and probably even more so for the participants.

Last but not least are sanitation crew volunteers, headed up by Dylan Walker, who get the grounds cleaned up in advance, keep trash under control on race day, and stay long after the gates are closed to return FENCE to its beautiful and bucolic condition.

The activity-packed Block House day is a labor of love for TR&HC and its much-appreciated volunteers. Everyone involved hopes this year’s crowd will be the biggest yet – and that you’ll sign up to volunteer next year.

There are still some choice parking spots left for viewing the Block House Steeplechase on May 2. For more information about the Block House and for ticket orders, visit or call the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club office at 828-863-0480.

– Submitted by Tryon Riding & Hunt Club