I’ve now been to three World Equestrian Games.
- Kentucky 2010 with my mid-60s parents and my three month old baby.
- Normandy 2014 with my now nearly 70 year old parents (one using a walker) and my 4 and 8 year old boys and my non-horsey hubby.
- Tryon 2018 with my completely horsey friend.
And my advice to the World Equestrian Games organizers — don’t try to be the Olympics.
We can not expect a new equestrian mecca to be created from near scratch every four years. We’ve seen how hard that is. It’s not financially nor organizationally feasible. WEG needs to come up with a system where there are perhaps four locations around the globe that host this incredible equestrian event on a rotating basis. And then stick to that.
What do attendees of WEG want? Great competition that puts horses and riders first. Accommodation that isn’t an hour away. Great spectator stands and facilities. Great shopping. A place to gather and talk horses, horses, horses.
What do competitors and officials want? Great competition that puts horses and riders first. Great, safe, fair courses that speak to a high level of competition and showcase what these sports have to offer. Reasonable accommodation on site for riders, grooms and others.
The idea behind WEG is to celebrate the horse and celebrate horse sports. To do that everything needs to be close together. Split it all up and you’ve lost one key purpose. I want to go watch Reining one day. And Vaulting. And all the other sports. So far I’ve just watched some great Eventing, but that’s my first love. But this year I got to watch some fabulous Dressage as well because the arena was right there.
In 2010, Kentucky knew how to run an event. People know the facilities at the horse park. Kentucky loves horses. There were great vendors, good food (and booze!), and lots of great competition. I was actually able to get around with a stroller and an infant, and got some help getting my slow-moving parents out to cross country to watch some incredible action. The TV screens were everywhere on XC day, the announcers were experts, the audio system worked great and you could follow every minute of the action no matter where you were on course. However, our last minute decision to go did mean we stayed 45 minutes from the venue, but that was Ok.
Normandy was a whole other kettle of fish. Everything was split up. We loved going to Paris mind you, en route to Normandy. We went to the war museums and the kids ran on Juno Beach, a great image I’ll forever have in my mind. But I never saw the vendors area, aside from the few who were at the Cross Country and Eventing Dressage venue. In the muddy pit that area became after heavy rains, Dubarrys did a great business and that gave me an excuse to buy some really expensive boots that I now wear in any inclement weather. And the mud meant I was hauling around a tired kid on my back for various parts of the day. Giddy-up mom!
We also had to trek so far to get the the Eventing venue I couldn’t really tell you where we were, but I know it was the Haras du Pin Stud. Thankfully we chose a group tour which meant they got us around on big buses or we would have been completely lost.
Food was completely inadequate at the Eventing venue. Is there not a simple formula WEG uses that X number of people means you need X number of food trucks? There were about three food trucks for 50,000 people. After the first day of huge lineups we then went to the local bakery each morning for lovely bagette sandwiches that we brought to the venue each day. Good thing no one cared what we brought with us.
Show jumping for Eventing was at the main venue in town so they then shipped the horses into that venue and spectators had a complex trip to get to that venue involving several buses. We were in foreign territory after three days way out in the country. Even the bus driver didn’t know where to drop us off and missed the stop.
This year, Tryon was trying really hard. By all accounts the stables were well done and so were the indoor and outdoor stadiums. It had Hurricane Florence to contend with, and weather can always be a factor at any outdoor event. But it was still a construction zone (thank you Bromont for pulling out — for many reasons including a lack of government support — after being awarded the 2018 games; as a Canadian I was really disappointed). I’m an Eventer if you can’t tell, and the Cross Country course at Tryon was first class. But there were construction vehicles all along the route to the course, including a mud pit for the one-day-to-be-built polo field. Thankfully I had my Dubarrys with me!
A lovely (but weary) construction gent gave us a lift in his huge truck out to the hill by Cross Country and told us that incredible amounts of rain earlier in the year delayed construction and that they had been working 20-hour days for weeks to get the place ready. The key areas were ready, and Tryon will be a spectacular venue when it’s done.
The fiasco of the endurance event at Tryon can’t happen again. People were saying recent rain had made less-settled areas of the course wash away, the confusion at the start was a mess, and the heat and humidity was too much in the end.
I think Tryon will look fabulous in a few years and it would be best if a venue like this — completed mind you — got the chance to hold this event again.
I haven’t travelled around the world to know of other venues on other continents, but Aachen and Britain come to mind and I’m sure there are others that can handle the scale of WEG.
Maybe if venues were ensured to get the games in eight to 12 years they would know they could build the right facilities and could hold multiple test events and other competitions knowing that WEG would come their way in a number of years. Sponsors could know that the right facilities are in place for a great competition and would be more willing to put dollars forward in advance. Vendors would know what to expect and that it would be financially worth their while. Spectators could plan far ahead and know they wouldn’t be walking into a construction zone and there would be stands to sit in, a place to sleep and decent food to eat. And lots of shopping to be done and horses and competitions to see.
Nearby towns would know this event was coming and could plan far ahead.
People return to the Wellington Equestrian Festival in Florida each year for Dressage and Show Jumping, riders go to Aachen, Burghley, Badminton and the Kentucky Three-day event each year. Courses are modified, sponsors take their spots and people plan their vacations around something where they know a bit about what to expect.
I fear if WEG doesn’t do something like this then it just won’t happen again. And that would be the biggest shame of all.