Saturday Night Lights in Tryon Sets the Expectations for AEC

The George Morris Arena at the start of Saturday Night Lights at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld. The George Morris Arena at the start of Saturday Night Lights at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

The Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Tryon, N.C. kicked off its summer Saturday Night Lights jumper series last night. A record 12,000+ spectators piled into the Blue Ridge Mountains resort to watch the $130,000 Adequan® Grand Prix CSI 3*, and the electrifying atmosphere and overall sparkling production of the evening gave us a glimpse into the possibilities of what we may expect at the Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships at TIEC next month.

The Tryon area is a marked equestrian community with primarily English disciplines defining the culture of the region. And yet, on Saturday night at TIEC, we may have been the minority in the spectator stands. While we were easily identifiable (a smartly dressed young woman picked us directly out of the crowd watching warm-up and handed us orders of go–we figured it was the tan arms/white legs and sports bra lines that gave us away) the number of obviously non-horsey spectators in attendance was truly staggering.

But the community had turned out for good reason. Admission and parking were FREE, and the entire evening was fun, interesting and entertaining for the whole family. There was face painting, pony rides, a carousel and tons of different types of food, snacks and beverages. During drag breaks there were t-shirt tosses, kids dancing to familiar modern tunes and an announcer who did a remarkable job engaging both the show jumping savvy audience as well as those just learning about the sport. The entire crowd cheered for clear rounds, bemoaned a falling rail and waited with baited breath to learn of any time penalties.

They all really want a t-shirt. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

They all really want a TIEC t-shirt. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

But I want this t-shirt..."Whip & Neigh Neigh..."

But I want this t-shirt…”Whip & Neigh Neigh…”

“I have to say, it completely increases the level of any sporting event when you have a crowd like what we had tonight,” said U.S. Olympic team gold medalist Peter Wylde, who finished the night in third with Aram Ampagoumian, LLC’s Dutch Warmblood mare Aimee. “To have a public that is so enthusiastic and to think about how quickly it’s picked up in this area is inspiring. This is a venue working the way it intended to and provides access to our sport in a fun and entertaining way.”

Every time you turn around you can spot another all weather arena with nearby picnic tables and gazebos, and there are a number of locations where you can watch multiple competition rings at once or follow your favorites seamlessly from warm-up to show ring. The George Morris Grand Prix Arena itself is more like a large stadium, which Peter said makes it feel like the crowd is really “with you” the whole way around the course.

After a four rider jump-off in which New Zealand’s Sharn Wordley and the Sky Group’s 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding Caspar came away with a win, the whole evening wrapped up with a laser light show celebrating the Fourth of July.

Sharn Wordley and Caspar. Photo by Liz Crawley Photography.

Sharn Wordley and Caspar. Photo by Liz Crawley Photography.

“They’re making a big effort to create a vibe here that is unlike any other venue in the world,” Sharn said. “I think that was really just a fantastic turnout. That atmosphere is what is going to make people come back and continue to enjoy the sport. I was so impressed, yet again.”

All of this is to say, if the atmosphere and extravagance during the AEC in September is even a third of what we experienced last night, eventers from around the country will be in for a real treat. Clearly, the marketing team at TIEC is doing something right to get the community so involved, and the little extras will make for even more of a championship feel.

The USEA has made some changes to the schedule in anticipation of entries, so be sure to adjust your calendars. The competition begins on Wednesday, August 31.

My hope, which is a reflection of my only complaint, is by then an additional ingress and egress will have been constructed. We made it inside and parked quickly enough but getting out was a different story.

Our view for an hour, before making our great escape down a, erm, "side road."

Our view for an hour, before making our great escape down a, erm, “side road.”

[Wordley Dominates Aboard Caspar in Front of Record Crowd]

[AEC Competition Kicks Off On Wednesday, August 31 – Please Note Schedule Changes]

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