The FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018, hosted only for the second time ever in the United States, captivated the global equestrian community from Sept. 11-23 at Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina, hosting world championship-caliber competition for each of the eight FEI-sanctioned disciplines: dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, para-dressage, reining and vaulting over the two-week timeframe.
WEG is held every four years in the middle of the Summer Olympic cycle and features top equestrian competitors from around the world vying for top team and individual titles in their respective disciplines.
The story of WEG arriving at Tryon was different than initially anticipated, as Mark Bellissimo and the Tryon Equestrian Partners stepped in more than halfway into the planning cycle to save the event after initial host city, Bromont, in the Canadian province of Quebec, dropped its nomination. Working on an 18-month timeline instead of a four-year plan, the Tryon team had to work quickly to ensure that the sporting venues and infrastructure was completed in time.
The event officially opened on Tuesday, Sept. 11, a day before competition began, welcoming the world to western North Carolina with special words spoken by FEI President Ingmar de Vos and Tryon 2018 CEO Mark Bellissimo. Grammy-nominated country music artist Hunter Hayes wowed the crowds, following an emotional Parade of Nations to officially commence the start of competition.
“This WEG showcased incredible top sport in each of the disciplines hosted throughout the two weeks; some of the best competition in history,” said Michael Stone, president of the Tryon 2018 Organizing Committee. “We’re proud of what we were able to accomplish in such a short time frame, and our team worked incredibly hard to make sure that we were able to deliver these games for the athletes, horses and spectators.”
Isabell Werth of Germany and her superb mare, Bella Rose, who has been absent from the international dressage competition circuit for nearly four years due to an injury, returned in incredible form. The duo went toe-to-toe with the United States’ top combination and current world number one, Laura Graves and Verdades, who are regulars on the Adequan Global Dressage Festival circuit. Julio Mendoza, also a regular on the AGDF circuit, competed as the first individual ever for his home nation of Ecuador.
“This was my answer to all those who did not understand how I could leave the world’s number one horse at home for this one,” Werth said. “Most horse people here know how close I am to Bella, and to bring her back after a long recovery after WEG 2014 is extra special. We always knew it could be a risk, but it is like that with every horse.”
The British Eventing Team stormed to the top of the leaderboard, finishing on the lowest combined team score in the history of WEG, as all four team riders completed each of the three phases, and each finished within the difficult optimum time on cross-country. Ros Canter finished atop the individual podium for the British team as well — the team’s first individual win since 2006.
Reining saw the first-ever individual gold medal for the nation of Belgium, won by Bernard Fonck, while the top guns of Team USA secured team gold, continuing their dominance in the discipline. Cade McCutcheon, the youngest competitor for Team USA at the age of 18, finished in a runoff for third place to take the individual bronze aboard his mount, Custom Made Gun.
The second week of the event brought jumping, para-dressage, driving and vaulting competition to Tryon, featuring another six days of outstanding sport.
Para-dressage competition kicked-off the week with riders from the Netherlands, Great Britain and Denmark making their mark to begin a five-day stretch of medal competitions. The Netherlands ultimately dethroned the reigning champions of Great Britain, earning their first team gold in para-dressage.
“It is so amazing,” said a tearful Sanne Voets, who competed for the Netherlands. “It was my dream, and now it is real. This horse two years ago won the first-ever paralympic gold medal for the Netherlands, and he contributed very much to our first ever team gold medal on Friday, and now he is the first one taking home triple gold for the Netherlands at the World Equestrian Games.”
Vaulting competition showcased the athleticism and beauty of the horse and rider connection in the indoor arena at Tryon, filling the stadium for the team final on the second-to-last day of the event. Team Germany ultimately defended its gold from the 2014 WEG in Normandy, France. The strong German team also secured the female individual gold medal with strong performances from Kristina Boe.
An unprecedented performance from Team USA in the discipline of driving brought yet another gold medal to the count for the U.S., as Chester Weber, Misdee Wrigley-Miller and James Fairclough defeated the odds, and their combined score narrowly edged Team Netherlands and Team Belgium for the gold. All three drivers expressed their pride in this accomplishment for Team USA, a first in the federation’s history.
“It’s unbelievable. It takes a village to make this whole thing work,” Weber said. “I said all week that I was going to keep my head down and concentrate on my own game, and hopefully on Sunday, I’ll pick my head up with a medal or two around it.”
In what will be remembered as one of the best demonstrations of top sport in history, the jumping team and individual finals featured many of the world’s best riders going head-to-head for two of the most prestigious honors available in international competition for the discipline of jumping.
Ultimately, after a strong display of prowess from the Swiss team, the United States made its mark on the leaderboard after an unprecedented team jump-off against Sweden for gold. McLain Ward, Adrienne Sternlicht, Laura Kraut and Devin Ryan composed the team for the United States. Sweden captured the silver medal, while the Germans took home bronze.
Simone Blum, the youngest female competitor to ever take an individual gold, wowed on her mare DSP Alice for Germany, as the pair did not accumulate a single jumping fault over four days of competition.
“This was sport at its best,” U.S. Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland said. “The odds on a jump-off being required were incredible, although we realized it was a possibility. This, today, is why we do it. We have been dreaming about this for so long. We have a tremendous group of talented riders.”
Learn more about the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018 at www.tryon2018.com.