Residents attend presentation, Q&A on World Equestrian Games

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hundreds of residents from Polk and Rutherford counties gathered at Isothermal Community College’s Spindale Campus on Thursday, Nov. 10, for a presentation and question-and-answer session with Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners, about the World Equestrian Games (WEG), which will be held at Tryon International Equestrian Center in September 2018.

ICC President Walter Dalton introduced Bellissimo, saying, “This is really a big deal. TIEC itself is already transforming the economy of our area. Now with WEG, it will be an economic game changer for all of what I call the ‘Tryon Triangle Region,’ from Spartanburg/Greenville to Asheville to Charlotte.

“We must do all we can as a community to make it a success. The TIEC partners deserve our thanks and praise, and also our hard work to make this possible and have it go off without a hitch.”

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Bellissimo told the audience that the partners had initially been thinking of trying for the 2026 WEG, but decided to bid on the 2018 games when Bromont, Canada – the previously chosen site – decided they couldn’t come up with the needed public funding.

“We put our bid in on August 2 and shortly thereafter were able to get an audience with the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale, the international governing body of equestrian sport). We were dismissed until they came here to see the facility,” Bellissimo said.

The selection of Tryon for the 2018 WEG was announced on Nov. 3.

Bellissimo said he wanted to hold Thursday’s public meeting because he recognized that, “once the announcement was made that WEG would be here, 10-20 percent of residents would be excited, another 10-20 percent would be scared, and the 60 percent or so in the middle wouldn’t know what to think.

“This event will generate $400 million in 14-15 days, with 550,000 people going through the gates – not all on the same day, but on average 40,000 to 70,000 a day.”

Two short videos were shown: highlights of the opening ceremonies attended by 20,000 people at the 2014 WEG in Normandy, France, and an introduction to the eight recognized FEI equestrian competition sports: show jumping, eventing, dressage, para-equestrian dressage, endurance, reining, vaulting and driving.

The Q&A session followed, with Bellissimo saying, “I want you to ask tough questions. This is an opportunity for us to dispel rumors and make sure this is a great experience for all, and that we include everyone in the design.”

Following is a recap of audience questions and responses from Mark Bellissimo.

What do you want us to do for you?

We want to engage everyone in the dialogue, hoping you can provide us feedback so that we can identify big opportunities or concerns. We don’t want to impose this on anyone; it’s an opportunity to have a collaborative effort on how we present this community to the world. 

There will be opportunities to participate onsite if you have a small business, or as a spectator, and we will need volunteers. You can go to or tryon2018 on Facebook, put your email address and we will be sharing information.

Can volunteers sign up already?

Yes, you can go to or tryon2018 on Facebook and we will have forms where you can sign up as a volunteer, advertiser, sponsor, vendor, etc. There will be certain things that are volunteer and some that will be job postings, which could turn into permanent positions at a later date.

How much of the event will be at night?

WEG will be broadcast in 120 countries so we will have a timing issue, with Europe being the most important market. Typically things have been done in the afternoon. Beyond the competition events, we will also have demonstration events that will be interesting to families.

Are you going to have major construction?

What is exciting about our facility is that we can host all eight disciplines onsite and we have most of the infrastructure already done. We will build some things but this is not a one-hit-wonder for the community as WEG has been in some cases. We already have nine months of horse shows and visions of a 12-month long series, and WEG will grow the stature of the facility further for the ongoing equestrian events.

What is the plan for traffic and parking?

We have met with the secretary of transportation and are going to put together the country’s and state’s best experts and work out the best way to do it. We will have five or six different entrances, which will distribute the load. And we will also use satellite transportation. If you’re in Charlotte, we will have a bus route that comes down; we’ll have a network of buses and transportation lines that come into the venue. Traffic is the biggest issue, we don’t want the lasting memory to be traffic problems for the community or the spectators.

What is the situation or plan for hotels?

We have a commercial area now under development that will include a 180-room hotel that will be open by fall 2018 to complement current onsite lodging (cabins, RV spots, and existing hotel). You may have also heard about the manufacturing facility we bought in Forest City, which will be manufacturing some of the things we will need here.

Will there be a central housing bureau set up for people to find lodging?

We will be setting up an online opportunity to post your rental homes, lake homes, mountain homes, “5-bedroom home at Lake Lure,” – different types of housing. We will have it online where you can log on, put pictures in there. We want to control the booking experience so a person could call one number and get reservations for a house, arrange zip line tickets, make dinner arrangements, etc.

Will there be a high level of security?

We will be working with Homeland Security as well as state, county and local resources to make sure it’s safe for everyone.

Will you have a list of boarding farms for everyone wanting to bring their horses in?

All of the horses coming to compete at WEG have to stay at TIEC. The FEI requires that they be quarantined and onsite for drug testing, disease control, etc. So that is not an opportunity for the games but there may be subsequent opportunities.

What airports will the horses be coming through?

We will be setting up a quarantine facility on our property, so we will be able to work with all three major airports in the area: Asheville, Charlotte and Greenville/Spartanburg. (Note: all horses coming in from outside the US are subject to a mandatory quarantine period.)

WEG has several disciplines that TIEC doesn’t have experience in. Will you do test events?

We have done four of the eight disciplines here: jumping, dressage, para-dressage and eventing. Test events will be done for driving, vaulting, endurance and reining in 2017.

What are the plans for ticket pricing?

There will be tickets and things will cost money. But we want to make it accessible to more than just the wealthiest spectators. We anticipate $25-30 tickets to come in, watch demonstrations, go to the vendors, etc, as well as various other programs and incentives. We want everyone in Polk and Rutherford counties to come to WEG at least one of the days.

At the 2010 Kentucky WEG there were complaints about price gouging for different things.

There are people who probably won’t come to these games because of the experiences they had around these issues. If you’re managing a hotel or renting your home, we ask that you be fair. We want people to come back here so these are important issues.

by Judy Heinrich