BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN
On Thursday night after several long days of travel, heat and humidity, I’m writing this blog post with somewhat spotty wifi at my Aunt’s lake house in Lake James, North Carolina. The clothes I wore today are salt encrusted with sweat, and the back of my neck has a permanent pink tint from the sunburn that continues to get a little bit worse every day. I’m exhausted, but I’m very happy. Because I’m attending my first ever World Equestrian Games, and they’re in my home state.
Growing up, North Carolina wasn’t really well known for… well, anything. Yeah sure, we’re “First in Flight” but that milestone happened a long time ago. We’ve got good (the best) barbeque, beaches and mountains, but although I’m proud of my birthplace it’s never been at the top of any chart.
As a horse crazy kid, I would run to the television on the rare occasion that show jumping was on. The huge, bright colored jumps completely enthralled me – especially the Shamu jump. Gem Twist was my absolute favorite horse, and I saved my allowance to buy his Breyer from the (sadly now closed) Triangle Horse Sports in Raleigh.
Horse shows weren’t a part of my life when I was a youth. I was thoroughly a backyard rider, showing up to the tryouts for NC State’s IHSA team with rubber tall boots and a show bow. But I went to the Duke Children’s Benefit Horse Show Grand Prix every year. It’s where I got my first thrill of watching a Grand Prix up close. It’s where I saw Kent Farrington and Up Chiqui win one of their first Grand Prixs in 2005. Even if there wasn’t a big class on the schedule, I often found myself sitting on those red seats, looking down the green and yellow rail of the Hunt Corse Complex in Raleigh. Watching all kinds of horse shows, thinking – someday.
I’m not a backyard rider anymore, but I’m still working on the someday when it comes to getting in the rated ring. I’ve had the privilege of watching some of the greatest horse shows in the country, and have seen our nation’s top show jumping partnerships. Even so, the thrill of live action is still very real for me. When WEG announced it would be in Tryon this year, I scheduled a calendar alert to buy my tickets. Although I live in California now, as far away from my home state and this show as possible, I bought my show jumping pass the first day it went on sale. I was coming home, coming to watch the greatest riders in the world compete in North Carolina.
There’s been a lot on social media about #Tryon2018.
It’s a mess! It’s flooded! They didn’t get anything done! They over promised! The grounds are terrible! It’s a “manure” show! It’s going to be the worst WEG ever!
Maybe it is the worst WEG ever, but I wouldn’t know. It’s the only WEG I’ve been to. It’s probably going to be the only WEG accessible to me, a very average equestrian, for a very long time.
This is what I can tell you about the games:
It’s very hot, and humid. There’s not as much shade as I’d like, and the sun is absolutely scorching down on us watching show jumping. The hurricane didn’t help the humidity, but when I walked (in my flip flops) through the grounds on Tuesday afternoon the only puddle I saw was under some bleachers. The sky is blue. The horses glisten under it.
The grounds are a little rough around the edges. You’ll see a plywood box that you’re not sure where it came from. You’ll see a traffic cone covering up a hole that would be very easy to turn your ankle in. There aren’t as many signs directing things as I’d like, but there are tons of restrooms. There’s abundance of places to buy a drink or a snack. The lines aren’t too long, and the general store sells wine and six packs of beer for reasonable prices.
The competition is amazing. McLain Ward and Clinta put in a round today that still leaves me with a magical feeling when I think about it. The course was tough. I’ve never seen jumps that high, or combinations that technical.
Walking around, I hear a lot of people complaining. Can you believe there is only ONE water station and I have to walk ALL THE WAY OVER THERE to fill up my bottle? I don’t say anything, because I like looking at vendors as I stroll through the grounds. I like filling up my two bottles of water for free, wherever I can. I also don’t say anything, because in the south we’re taught to be polite. I was raised to be nice to my guests, and thank those who were kind enough to host me.
These games are not perfect. Neither is the facility. I wish North Carolina didn’t have 30 days of rain over the winter that set construction back. I wish the grounds didn’t promise the moon, when we all knew it was pretty unlikely that they’d be able to pull it down from the sky. I wish the hurricane didn’t make things hard for competitors in week one and scare visitors away, although if I’m being honest, I’m much more sympathetic to the citizens in the eastern part of the state who lost their homes.
What I do know is this: towards the end of the opening day of show jumping, when we were all roasted and exhausted from eight hours of competition, Fernando Cardenes and Quincy Car entered the ring. On the official schedule, he’s listed as a team rider for Colombia. But to me, and many others watching, he’s Fernando the local vet that keeps our horses healthy. He’s one of the riders I used to watch go around that tiny indoor at Raleigh’s horse complex during the Duke Show Grand Prix. When the intercom announced he was the only rider from North Carolina out of the entire field, all the North Carolinians like me stood up in their seats and hollered for our hometown hero.
And I was proud. Even though he wasn’t clear, I was so proud. A person, or an event, doesn’t need to be perfect to deserve crowds cheering in the stands.