The Tryon Riding & Hunt Club Horse Trials are held every year in late October at the Foothills Equestrian & Nature Center (FENCE) in Tryon, North Carolina. The offer Starter through Preliminary levels.
2019 was the 44th year for Tryon Riding & Hunt Club’s Horse Trials, which means, if our math serves right, that 1976 was the event’s first year. Eventing in the Tryon area was started by Dr. Harry and Tippy Brown, who first moved to the Tryon area in 1958, re-located to Camden in 1966, and came back to Tryon in 1974. They got involved in the early days of eventing in Pendleton, South Carolina and Camden, South Carolina and fell in love with the sport.
Although we think there may have been some early forms of what was then called Combined Training in the 50s and 60s, particularly by the local Western North Carolina Pony Club, Harry and Tippy probably got the adult version of Combined Training started in the Tryon area at historic Harmon Field when they came back to Tryon in 1974. We do know they were involved in designing and building a “demanding” course at the Biltmore Estate outside Asheville.
Although there had been various small dressage and show jumping events at Harmon Field prior to 1976, it is probably safe to assume the Browns introduced the cross-country element by having riders actually ford the adjacent Pacolet River and run obstacle courses on the Brannon and DuCharme farms on that side. They probably enlisted the prominent Tryon Riding & Hunt Club to sponsor the event at that time. Three generations of the Brannon family have served as presidents of the Riding & Hunt Club, adding to the element of history of one of the Club’s signature events.
Our event runs at the iconic and historical Foothills Equestrian and Nature Center, known by most as FENCE. In 1984, the FENCE facility came into being and the TRHC Horse Trials were moved from Harmon Field in 1985 and run at FENCE ever since. Many of our riders love coming back to this warm and cozy venue. We routinely have riders who competed here as children and now compete as adults. The barns are all close to the rings and the cross-country course is a short 250 yard hack along a road that passes underneath I-26, another “unofficial” pre-cross-country obstacle question for many horses.
The course is uniquely represented by a long and challenging uphill gallop across fences and a water feature that asks different questions of the five levels, Starter through Preliminary, that compete here. Riders reach the top of the grade and are rewarded, if they can take the time to look, of a gorgeous view of the Tryon Mountains and surrounding foothills.
The cross-country courses were designed by Dr. Harry and Tippy Brown and installed with volunteer assistance by folks like the Brannons, the Binghams (from Asheville), and Colonel Chuck Ross. Janet and Norm Peterson and their Glassy Mountain Farm were also major supporters of our Horse Trials for many years. Janet was on the BOD for 10 years. Noreen Cothran’s Farm House Tack Shop has always contributed prizes while Madelon Wallace of Walker, Walker, & Emerson Realty has been the Safety Coordinator for years. Bonnie Lingerfelt and Libby Johnson have contributed often over the years also.
Harry Brown, who happened to be the first veterinarian in Tryon (or so I’m told), won a riding trophy in 1960 at a Pendleton event and after Harry passed in 1995, the family donated the trophy and it has become the permanent trophy for the Training Division at the TRHC Horse Trials.
Most riders arrive on Friday afternoon and are greeted at the entrance with carrots for their horses, water bottles for the riders, and a near life-sized model of Morris the Horse, the equestrian icon of the Tryon area. The course walk takes place later in the afternoon and course designer Greg Schlappi has built a jump midway through the course that also serves as a drink cooler. Walkers can grab a drink as they stroll up the gallop hill. A welcome reception takes place at 5:00 p.m. under the century-old oak tree near the water feature followed by a competitors’ casual dinner at 6:00 p.m. near the barns. On Saturday evening, the nearby Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) has been holding a major $150,000 Grand Prix of Jumping event and many of our horse trials competitors make the 25-minute drive over to TIEC to watch the show. Several years ago, we began to emphasize an Intercollegiate Challenge and we have had from five to eight college teams competing each year. While many of our riders are from the local area, we do get competitors from anywhere from 10-13 nearby states, making it a truly regional event.
Ours is an event that, while it offers challenges to our Preliminary and Training divisions, is targeted at young riders. Typically, about 75 percent of our starters are at the Novice, Beginner Novice, or Starter levels. Increasingly, we are tailoring our cross-country course to provide these young riders with unique challenges at these lower levels.
In 2020, we are branding the event in a new and hopefully fun way be changing our name to the TRHC “Morris the Horse” Trials. Morris is a historical wooden horse who dates all the way back to around 1925 when he was created by a local Tryon toy shop and gradually became known as the Tryon Horse. At 12 feet tall, he stands guard on a corner in the center of the historic and charming town of Tryon. In 1967, a group of local TRHC members decorated him with a giant wreath, wrote a poem, and named him forever as “the horse named Morris.” We hope to carry the Morris theme across our gifts for riders and volunteers and various marketing elements.
The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the USEA Events A-Z series.
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