Now that I’m safely tucked back home in my little apartment with my fall-themed candles burning as the rain drizzles outside, I’m letting out a huge sigh of relief that our time at WEG is over.
It was a bittersweet experience. Obviously, magic is bound to happen any time you take the top one percent of horses and riders in the world and plop them all in one confined location—even if a hurricane is brewing on the horizon. On the other hand, the hurricane only added to a venue that was already chaotic. There were postponed competitions, cancelled events, some huge issues with the Endurance portion, sweltering heat and humidity and lots of construction still going on. Was it worth it? Let’s review the highs and lows of my experience at Tryon.
I’ll start with the bad stuff so we can get that out of the way.
The incomplete venue. I’ll be honest. Despite the fact that so many people were saying they had no idea how the venue was going to be finished in time for the event, I was still really holding out hope that it was all going to be fabulous. I thought they were going to pull a Hail Mary and make some miracle happen in record time and we’d all be left scraping our jaws off the ground. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and everyone felt the effects.
There was the debacle with the grooms’ housing. (Want to read about it? Click here.) Then the press room basically provided us with shelter and air conditioning—which shouldn’t be underappreciated considering the weather conditions—and not a whole lot more. Apparently at some points before our arrival, there was no electricity and the media was working out of a corner of a restaurant. When we were there, the noises of construction echoed through the whole place, which made it a little challenging to even hear yourself think at times. When we departed from WEG, the restrooms in the media center were still incomplete. But, even so, we did have everything we needed to get our jobs done, and that’s what really matters.
As I was walking the cross-country course on Saturday, I got a better look at an entire building that was still unfinished and didn’t look like it was even close to being functional. There were gigantic piles of dirt and construction equipment scattered about that tainted an otherwise gorgeous landscape.
Since Tryon International Equestrian Center isn’t surrounded by much development, most of the convenient dining options were limited to what was available at the venue. While the food was always good in my experience, the restaurants appeared to be quite understaffed and the service was very slow. Everyone was friendly, though, and it was hard to be upset with anyone when you knew that they were up against some big challenges.
With all that said, I’ve gathered that things have continued to improve throughout the event. It sounds like the staff at Tryon was doing everything possible to make adjustments and improve the experience for everyone.
The cancellations. I literally cannot imagine what it is like to fly your horse (and entire team) across the globe for a world championship, only to have the highlight of the competition cancelled, as was the case for the dressage Freestyle. I know it was a huge disappointment for the riders, teams, coaches, grooms and fans. I feel really sorry for the spectators who shelled out a lot of money and traveled long distances to have their event cancelled. I am also disappointed for the vendors who invested a lot of money in being able to attend WEG, many of them planning their annual financial budgets around it—and probably not getting much of a return on it. (If you want to read more about the event cancellation, click here.)
WEG was something that everyone has been looking forward to for months (if not years) and it’s a shame that for the dressage, there was such an anticlimactic ending. However, I understand that the weather conditions necessitated rescheduling, which posed extreme logistic concerns and I don’t think anyone could be faulted for that.
The weather. I’m so tired of talking about that stupid hurricane. What more is there to say? During our time at WEG, it was either hot, steamy and super humid or slightly cooler and spitting rain, which meant you were either dry and roasting, or nice and cool but getting wet. From a media standpoint, I struggled to look “professional” while still being adequately prepared for the weather. The big rain came after we departed for home, but from the sounds of it, everything in Tryon held up for the most part.
I did get a good chuckle out of so many Europeans saying that the extreme heat was challenging for some of their horses to deal with and then Laura Graves interjected that for those who came from Florida, the heat wasn’t extreme at all. It’s all relative, right?
Of course, I’m thankful that it turned out as well as it did and I’m sorry for the people on the North Carolina coast who weren’t as lucky. My complaints about not knowing what to wear because of the weather are pretty insignificant compared to those people who had to leave their homes not knowing what they would return to.
The endurance disaster. I was mostly sucked into dressage land in my time at WEG but I couldn’t miss some of the buzz about all of the issues with endurance. The endurance world is pretty foreign to me and I can’t speak with any authority on it, so I will just say there were some major issues and leave it at that. (If you’re interested in reading more about it, check it out here.)
Enough of all that, now let’s get to the good stuff!
The volunteers. Every single volunteer I encountered during my time at WEG was unfailingly friendly and kind. I know their jobs weren’t easy and I really appreciated their big smiles and cheerful attitudes. I also really have to hand it to the Tryon locals who weren’t horse people, but volunteered anyway. Thank you, volunteers, for everything! Your smiles and help were and are truly appreciated!
The quality of competition. I feel like I’ve become quite a snob after watching dressage last week at WEG. I started turning up my nose at scores below 80 percent, which is really silly—seeing as I’m thrilled if I score in the mid-sixties in my personal dressage tests at the lower levels. Steffen Peters said it best in a video interview when he explained: “At the end of the day, if a [73.494%] is your drop score you have a hell of a team.”
There were some unbelievable rides and I was on the edge of my seat watching the showdown between Isabell Werth, Laura Graves and Charlotte Dujardin on the day of the Grand Prix Special. I actually felt nauseous during Laura’s test because I could only imagine the kind of pressure those riders faced. I have serious respect for riders who can keep it all together under those circumstances.
I also loved seeing riders who we don’t normally get to see perform on American soil. I got a big kick out of watching all of the Swedish riders perform with some beautiful rides and really consistent scores across the board. I’m a big fan of Great Britain, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing Sweden nab the bronze from them. I also enjoyed seeing riders representing places like Asia, South Africa and Bermuda!
Outside of the realm of dressage, the cross-country course was gorgeous (as long as you could look past the piles of dirt and construction equipment). The water complexes down by the lake were truly a work of art. I was amazed at the horses who galloped through parts of the lake totally unfazed by the fact that there was an actual pontoon boat with a camera gliding along next to them!
All of the happy tears. Maybe it’s just the 13-year-old fangirl inside of me talking, but, admittedly, I have always seen riders at this level as somewhat superhuman. They usually have very intense expressions, laser-sharp focus and stoic attitudes. They tend to be unflappable and not easily impressed.
Well, newsflash: they are actual people with emotions. They don’t just have ice running through their veins. WEG week was full of happy tears and expressive moments and it was a nice reminder that they’re people, too. We saw Isabell cry. We saw Charlotte cry. I interviewed Julio Mendoza and he told me about how he cried in his first passage. Patrik Kittel of Sweden had some priceless facial expressions when he saw his score come up on the board. I got a great photo of the American team cheering on Kasey Perry-Glass when she was in the ring. Her husband is in the photo, too, and the look of pure joy and excitement on everyone’s faces is really just the best.
And because I’m an emotional sap, whenever I saw someone else crying, my eyes started welling up with tears, too. It really poses quite the challenge when you’re trying to take photos with salty sweat and tears in your eyes!
As we were sitting in the stands during a lull in the competition on the day of the Special, our editor, Jennifer Mellace, spotted Sonke Rothenberger walk into the ring, pick up some of the footing, press it to his lips, put it down and walk out. We were both puzzled by the sight and wondered if it was a superstition or just a really odd way of trying to test the footing. When we crossed paths with Sonke in the mixed zone, our curiosity got the best of us and we asked him about it. He explained that it was a bit of a superstition and it was his way of honoring his loved ones who couldn’t be there with him at the competition. (Sniffle, sniffle!)
Although Sonke had beautiful rides, he didn’t seem to be thrilled with the fact that he finished just outside of the medals on the day of the Special. He said his superstition didn’t work as well as it normally does. I hope us nosey American journalists didn’t jinx him! Although if you ask me, scoring an 81 percent is still damn good. And if I were to guess, I’d bet his relatives would still be pretty proud.
A shining moment for U.S. Dressage. I was blown away by how our home team performed with such incredible grace under pressure and it was such a thrill to see them medal on U.S. soil. It was also really fun to see the gleeful look on chef d'equipe Robert Dover's face during the press conference afterward. What a fabulous way to end his time in his current role. It was also really special seeing Laura Graves win the Individual Silver.
Unique experiences and a fresh perspective. One of my favorite moments of WEG is actually thanks, in part, to Hurricane Florence. Without good ole’ Flo, I wouldn’t have found myself seeking shelter from the rain under the bleachers…with none other than Carl Hester, Hans Peter Minderhoud, Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven, the lovely Karen Pavicic and a bunch of other people who are way cooler than I am. Let me tell you that if you’re going to be stuck in the rain with anyone, that's a good group.
Another little odd tidbit of information that put things into perspective for me is how much cameras distort the size of people. For example, I had no idea that Sonke is as tall as he is. I’m close to 5’9 and I had to crane my neck to look up at him. He was practically at a different altitude. (He is 6’4). He looks tall on a horse, but sometimes a small horse can make a person look taller and vice versa. Other riders, like Charlotte Dujardin, are even more petite in person. And, for riders who might look like they are a bit bigger—I assure you that they are actually just normal-sized people and they are quite fit!
Now that it’s all said and done, I’m glad I was there. I’m glad I saw the U.S. team bring home silver and I got to see the famed new mount Mount St John Freestyle in person. I’m glad I was there to see it all for myself. And now, I’m really glad to be home.
What’s next? I’ll go back to riding my own little horse and I’ll resume my day dreams of riding at Grand Prix myself. This week, we’ll send our November issue of the magazine to the printer and then head off for a few days of Dressage at Devon. Can you guess what the weather forecast is already shaping up to look like?
Thanks again to Vita Flex for sponsoring our coverage of #Tryon2018.