An Inside Look at the FEI World Equestrian Games

By Lindsey Walczak

The FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) were proudly held in The United States this year (for only the second time, ever) at Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) located in Mill Spring, North Carolina from September 11-September 23. You might know this already because this event is SO huge NBC covered it along with many other networks throughout the world; hopefully you got a chance to watch some of it if you weren’t able to make it there in person. Just in case you missed it, I’m here to fill you in.

Living in Charlotte, NC puts me a little over an hour away from TIEC and you best believe as soon as I heard WEG would be held in my home state I immediately began stalking the website and next thing I knew I was signed up as a volunteer in Press/Media/Marketing/Broadcasting. I had the opportunity to work behind the scenes at this World Class Event, and my experience was nothing short of amazing.

It was estimated around 400,000 people would attend WEG and while I don’t have exact numbers on the actual turnout, a few unfortunate event cancellations and some other happenings caused lower attendance and sparked some strong opinions. Tryon had various weather challenges, which included heavy rain from Hurricane Florence as it moved inland. Many flights were cancelled which caused some, including a friend of mine, to be unable to attend. It also caused the assumed to be well-attended free-style dressage to be cancelled and some other events postponed. Besides that, there were issues with the endurance race which included a false start and eventual cancellation due to the heat, humidity and trail conditions. While disappointing, the weather is always completely out of anyone’s control.

Scenes from the opening ceremonies

TIEC was said to be tripling in size for WEG. It was apparent by the construction taking place even the day before opening ceremony that not everything was complete. In the past, the locations selected for WEG were determined years in advance since they are held every 4 years. Tryon, however, was awarded WEG only 18 months prior. That’s a very short amount of time to prepare for such a large event. I hate to sound cliché, but the show must go on. And it did.

These games impressively brought in athletes and their horses from 68 countries. The disciplines held throughout the various arenas and courses included dressage, reining, eventing, jumping, para-dressage, vaulting, and driving. The FEI awarded team and individual gold, silver, and bronze for each event. Basically, we had some of the best equestrians in the world right here in North Carolina! Besides the competition there were several onsite restaurants and food trucks and tents to choose from, vendor village offered some amazing shopping (such as Horse Tack Co. of course!)

Scenes of Vendor Village and the Horse Tack Co. booth at WEG

As a volunteer, I was able to work shifts and attend as a spectator both weeks of the games. Before the games started, I spent a Saturday at TIEC picking up my uniform and credentials as well as familiarizing myself with all of the updates to the facility and going through orientation for my particular volunteer group. I could feel the excitement of the other volunteers, the riders, and the employees. The energy was exhilarating!

During one of my shifts I worked in the mixed zone directly with the media at the final jump on cross country day. If you’re not familiar with cross country, it is one of the three phases of eventing where the riders jump an outdoor course. Upon completion, there are multiple tents set up with the riders’ grooms and team. They rush to meet their riders as they come in off that final jump. After their ride is complete, the media may want to interview with them. I kept in constant contact with the various networks including NBC, FEI,and several international networks. My job was to keep track of which riders they wanted to speak with as well as assisting in fetching the riders for their interviews. We were watching the rides on the big screen and when we went to get them as they dismounted, we’d politely ask if they’d come with us to be interviewed. Through this experience I was able to meet some of the best eventers from around the world and got to be right in the action!

Lindsey’s volunteer uniform at WEG

I spent another shift the following weekend at the media tent on the marathon driving course. While slightly slower paced, we were located at obstacle 5 and had a perfect view of the competition. I worked with a woman from Chicago and another volunteer who had traveled all the way from Brazil and only started learning English 6-months prior in preparation for coming to this event. We were responsible for ensuring only media accessed the tent and doing various tasks throughout the day.

I was extremely impressed with the dedication of all the volunteers I met many serving double shifts and working several days in a row. I was surprised to speak with so many who didn’t even own a horse or have a particular passion for horses, but rather a passion for volunteering and people. It was truly refreshing working with such kind individuals who just wanted to help this amazing event be as successful as it possibly could. I found myself at the office during the week wishing I was there with them, and when you’d rather be volunteering at WEG than working your salaried job- it makes you think. Maybe I won’t make any drastic career changes in the near future, but you better believe if an opportunity like this ever presents itself again- count me in!

Despite the obstacles The FEI World Equestrian Games faced, just think for a moment how incredibly special it is to have so many people who share the same passion in one place. Whether you watched it from a distance, attended in person, volunteered, or competed- at the end of the day we all came together at Tryon International Equestrian Center for one thing: the love of the horse. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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