If you’ll recall from the 2018 World Equestrian Games at Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), cross country took place a short hack away at the White Oak property. Formerly a golf course, White Oak was praised for its excellent footing and varying terrain. Now, riders of all levels can follow in the hoof-prints of WEG competitors as a new permanent fixture on the fall eventing calendar, Blue Ridge Mountain Horse Trials, will feature cross country on the same course that hosted the Games.
The inaugural Blue Ridge Mountain H.T. will take place Sept. 14-15 at TIEC in Mill Creek, North Carolina. The venue has hosted events — The Fork, Pony Club Championships East, and the 2017 American Eventing Championships — but this will be the first time cross country has been held at White Oak other than WEG.
The event offers USEA Beginner Novice through Advanced levels, including Modified, as well as Intermediate and Advanced combined tests (riders can choose the FEI or USEF test of choice). Show jumping will take place under the lights on Saturday night, followed by cross country on Sunday.
2018 WEG course designer Captain Mark Phillips has been preparing the courses in collaboration with Eric Bull’s ETB Equine Construction. “We’ve got all the divisions down on the golf course, which is what the lower divisions have wanted for a long time. That means it’s very busy down there, with lots of fences, but the footing is fantastic and the fences are good, so the riders should have a good experience,” he said while overseeing fence placement.
The White Oak Course offers something for every level of rider, despite its history of hosting and challenging some of the world’s best. Phillips explains, “I think high-performance riders want to run over good courses on good footing, especially when going a lot faster on those horses, and so good footing is paramount. And then we’ve got a lot of good fences, particularly after the World Equestrian Games. Lower-level riders want to have a good run and good experiences for their horses with nice surroundings, and again over nice courses.”
The former golf course boasts meticulously-manicured footing tended by a team led by TIEC’s full-time agronomist, Daniel Fradley, and incorporates scientific management to produce the best experiences for horse and rider alike.
Organizer Shelley Page took this video today — talk about irrigation! If you’ve ever fantasized about galloping headlong across an emerald green (former) golf course, this is your chance:
“Tryon is Tryon,” Phillips says. “We’re lucky enough to be able to run cross country on fantastic, [former] golf course footing, where we can control the moisture content in the ground. We find here that if you have 25-26% moisture content, the footing is nigh-on perfect. With the irrigation system at TIEC, we’re able to replicate that all the time. So, we’ve got the ability to control that and give riders and horses the best possible experience. Plus, they have fantastic stabling here, and dressage and show jumping is done on all-weather footing. It’s top-quality footing.”
From obstacles highlighting iconic Carolinas geography and wildlife to greenways and varied terrain, the White Oak Course is shaping up to provide an abbreviated version of what WEG competitors experienced just a year ago – sans the long, uphill gallop to the finish. (Of interest to combined test competitors, use of this irrigated, manicured gallop, up to three times, is available for $75.
“WEG was a long-format, single course at White Oak, and the [Blue Ridge Mountain Horse Trials at TIEC] has seven divisions on a smaller, shorter footprint. In the long format, riders came up the hill and finished in the [International Stadium], but now for this, everything happens down on the [former] golf course,” Phillips explained.
The White Oak Course will also provide an atmosphere that Phillips believes can help both riders and their horses at lower levels improve and advance: “I think we have a lot of lower-level competitions at nice farms, but it’s not the kind of atmosphere or the facilities at Tryon. And, I think once in a while, to be able to come and experience top-quality facilities is a nice thing to be able to do.”
“I think from a course designer perspective, Beginner Novice through Intermediate is an educational process, with each level being a rung of the ladder to educate the horse and, to a lesser degree, the rider,” Phillips continues. “It’s a process to go through before you really start answering questions at the Advanced level. I think here [at TIEC] we’ve got the rungs of those ladders in the right place for that.”
Entries are open through September 13, and stalls are discounted by $100 for all competitors of the inaugural event. View the USEA calendar listing here. Registration is available online at www.EventEntries.com.