How Tryon International Equestrian Center Puts Polk County in the Spotlight
Polk County celebrated the opening of its world-class Tryon International Equestrian Center and resort in 2014, and it’s creating quite a buzz in the equestrian world.
The $140 million, 1,400-acre venue in rural Mill Spring has quickly become a favorite destination for horse lovers across North Carolina and the United States, and in September 2018, it will welcome competitors and fans from around the globe as it hosts the FEI World Equestrian Games.
“It’s a huge honor for Polk County. We have an amazing facility, and our hope was that we could one day host these types of large events, but we never knew it would be this soon,” says Sharon Decker, chief operations officer for Tryon International Equestrian Center. “We anticipate welcoming more than half a million people over the course of the event, and we’re very excited to introduce them to beautiful Western North Carolina. This event is the Olympics of the equestrian world.”
The World Equestrian Games are held every four years, and 2018 will mark the second time the United States has hosted the event. The 2010 games took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and have been staged in Sweden, Italy, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Polk County has a rich equestrian history, with horse shows dating back to the 1930s. It was also home of the 1956 Olympic Show Jumping Team.
“This is horse country, and it’s been great fun to create such a terrific venue that builds on the equestrian sports this community already knows and loves,” Decker says. “Plus it provides full- and part-time jobs for more than 500 people during our peak summer season, and we have 70 full-time employees in the off-season.”
Tryon has eight all-weather rings, six grass arenas, and a lighted main arena with 6,000 seats, as well as a world-class cross country course, 1,200 permanent stalls, and climate-controlled shade pavilions. It’s also a shopping, dining, and lodging destination with seven restaurants, including a 1950s diner, sushi, Mexican, Italian, coffee shops, and bistro-style cuisine. Guests can shop at retail boutiques offering everything from clothing and jewelry to fine art and toys, as well as the general store, bakery, and ice cream shop. Overnight accommodations include three- and five-bedroom log cabins, one-bedroom cottages, a 50-room hotel or RV park with a lodge. Plans for 2017 include construction of four more hotels in preparation for the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
“We’re open 12 months a year with great entertainment, a wide variety of food and wonderful places to stay,” Decker says. “We’re creating a world-class resort for people who love horses, whether you ride or just enjoy watching them like I do.”
Every Saturday night from May through October, TIEC invites visitors to enjoy its Grand Prix equestrian event called Saturday Night Lights. The free, family-friendly event has competitive show jumping, live music, food, pony and carousel rides, face painting, and more.
Besides creating a new attraction where local citizens and visitors enjoy spending time, TIEC has had an impressive economic impact on rural Polk County.
“For Polk County, TIEC has been a pretty ‘wow’ thing – the economic statistics are mind-blowing,” says Jim Edwards, interim economic development director for Polk County. “It has provided a tremendous opportunity to showcase Polk County as a wonderful place to live, operate a business and raise a family. It has also become one of the largest employers in our county. The equestrian center has been very inviting, encouraging people to come walk the grounds and enjoy the restaurants. It’s another layer in the tapestry of Polk County’s long equestrian history.”
Decker agrees. “It’s a fascinating sport with many different disciplines,” she says.
The World Games includes eight of those disciplines, including dressage, combined driving, endurance, eventing, para-equestrian, reining, show jumping and equestrian vaulting.
“We’ve seen a huge positive impact on our community,” she adds. “People are buying property here because they love the experience of coming here. Other people are opening restaurants, hotels, B&Bs and equestrian-related businesses, such as hay and feed, vets, and trainers. It’s creating a lot of new construction locally.”
Admission to all horse shows at Tryon is free and open to the public, with free parking. Visitors can watch skilled riders and their horses compete from elevated viewing areas. When it isn’t hosting equestrian events, Tryon hosts festivals and concerts. Their website and Facebook page help visitors stay informed about shows and special events. Visit tryon.coth.com for more information.
– Jessica Mozo