The Fork Horse Trials are held yearly on the first weekend in April at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, North Carolina (Area II). The event offers Beginner Novice through Advanced horse trials and CCI2*-S, CCI3*-S, and CCI4*-S competition. TIEC is a year-round host to hunter/jumper shows and dressage shows in addition to eventing competitions.
Before The Fork Horse Trials relocated to the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, it was held for 15 years at The Fork Farm and Stables in Norwood, North Carolina. Nestled at the convergence of the Pee Dee and Rocky Rivers, Jim Cogdell purchased the 1,100-acre property in December of 1999.
“Jim wanted someone to build some cross-country fences around the farm so that he could jump his big Irish draught horse, Mac, over them when he was riding out,” Bernadette, Jim’s wife, recalled. “He called the USEA to see if they could suggest someone to help him decide what to put out there. They referred him to Les Smith who was apprenticing with Mark Phillips at the time. One thing led to another and Mark invited Jim to see Southern Pines where he was designing their course and they decided The Fork would be a wonderful spot for a horse trials.”
The first event was set to run The Fork in April of 2002 but their first competition was rained out. Ultimately, their first event took place later that year in September. The Fork ran one spring and one fall event in 2003 and 2004 as well, and in 2006 through 2010 instead hosted back-to-back weekends in the spring.
In the early years they offered Novice, Training, and Preliminary levels before expanding to host Beginner Novice and Intermediate. When the event grew to hosting back-to-back weekend, the Advanced, Intermediate, and Preliminary would run on the first weekend while Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice ran on the second weekend.
In 2011, The Fork just ran one weekend for Preliminary through Advanced and the CIC3* level and in 2012 added in a CIC2*. In 2013 and 2014, The Fork went back to hosting two events a year – one in the spring and one in the fall, with the upper levels running in the spring and lower levels running in the fall. By 2015, The Fork had added a CIC* to their FEI offerings and dropped the fall again once more to focus on the spring event.
In 2017, after being held at The Fork Farm and Stables for 15 years, the Cogdells elected to partner with the Tryon International Equestrian Center and relocate the event to TIEC. With state-of-the-art facilities and a brand new cross-country track built on what used to be a golf course, TIEC was more than prepared to take on what was already one of the premier events in North America. “Tryon was looking to get into eventing in a big way,” said Shelley Page, organizer of The Fork at TIEC. “They sat down and talked and just thought it would be a great partnership.”
“Initially the cross-country was built to run on the TIEC side of the property. They did have the golf course – the last golf course designed by Arnold Palmer before he retired – and it took some work to convert it into a cross-country course,” Page shared. “It’s a golf course, so it had some dips and sand traps, and even though it was a well-established turf it needed some work. After the first year we moved the upper levels over to what is known as the White Oak side of the property.”
“We’re excited to say that we now have moved all the cross-country over to the White Oak side, so even the lower levels all the way down to Beginner Novice will be doing cross-country on White Oak,” Page continued. “I think it’s a game-changer for eventing at Tryon.” It certainly is, as now all the riders at The Fork will have the chance to gallop over the same terrain that hosted the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games.
“It’s one of the only cross-country courses that’s all irrigated,” Page said. “They hired an agronomist and his only job is to grow the grass on the course. It’s one of the only courses that has a year-round babysitter and caretaker and they do everything there to make it better. To me, it’s a magical piece of property, where the cross-country is down at White Oak. Then you go up the hill and there’s this beautiful facility with the all-weather arenas and the stabling facilities. I think that’s what makes it a special event – the time and care and the investment that they continue to make every day in the cross-country course and the facility.”
“In the beginning, there was so much construction all the time and the cross-country was in and out of the rings,” Page described. “Now, they’ve stopped the big construction, they’re finishing up everything they’ve started, and it just feels like the whole place has taken a deep breath. It has a whole different feel now – a quieter, calmer, more special atmosphere that makes the event that much better.”
“For me, it’s like going home,” Page concluded. “It’s a family there. With the facility having their own restaurants, their own marketing team, their own print shop – it’s like its own little village, and it’s like going home because everyone’s a part of the team to make it as great as it can be. I feel very lucky and fortunate to have Jim and Bernadette’s support behind it and being a part of the Tryon team.”
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In this time of uncertainty, it can be difficult to know what steps to take next. Now that the spring season has been cut short, how do we adjust our goals for the fall season? And in the meantime, how do we manage the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow will bring?
So far this year, three USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) competitions have taken place. From those three competitions, nine horses have earned qualifying scores for The Dutta Corp. USEA YEH Championships in October 2020. Out of the nine qualified horses, there are seven 5-year-old horses and two 4-year-old horses.
And just like that the spring season was gone . . . All the plans. All the excitement. All the goals. The calendar now has scratch marks on the days we were meant to travel and nothing more for the rest of the season can be filled in yet.
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