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World Equestrian Games Coming To Polk County

Polk County is part of an area marketed as Tryon Horse Country.  In September, it will be the focus of the equestrian world. The World Equestrian Games are coming to the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring about 90 miles west of Charlotte. The games are held every four years.  Jake Johnson, the chairman of the Polk County Commission, spoke with WFAE's Marshall Terry.

This interivew has been edited for brevity.

Marshall Terry: This event has been held in places like Rome, Normandy, France and, closer to home, Lexington, Kentucky. This year, it’s in tiny Mill Spring, North Carolina. How did this happen?

Jake Johnson: It's kind of like the Olympic host committee. I draw parallels between the FEI hosting this one and the Olympic host committee. They put out the bid for who wanted to have it and the country that was in line to get it ended up not being able to complete that. So it left an opening to where our guys said “Yeah, let's go and bid on this thing and see if we can get it.” And we did.

Terry:  How many people do you expect to attend?

Johnson: The original number we were looking at was around 500,000.  A couple of articles recently said ticket sales weren't at that projected rate of 500,000. But [according] to the numbers, I'm seeing we're still going to have a great turnout. We've sold tickets to all 50 states and I believe over 50 countries are participating.

Terry: How do you expect it to impact Polk County and the surrounding areas?

Johnson: Local business is going to see a huge amount of exposure during this time. The scheduling for events is going to leave times in the afternoon where people say ‘Hey, we're in this beautiful region. We've been watching the games all day. Now what do we do with the afternoon and tonight?’ And I think that leaves a big opportunity for local business.

Terry: What special arrangements are being made for the horses when they travel?

Johnson: I believe the main [airport] they're flying to is Greenville-Spartanburg.  There may be some flying into Charlotte.  The containers and things they're transported in are very luxurious as you might imagine. Once they're on site they will have to be looked over by a vet and quarantined to make sure the horses have plenty of time to get acclimated and have no stress left over from the flight.  There are some companies that do equine transportation. A lot of these horse owners that are coming have their own means of getting the horses here as far as their own private flights and things like that just for their horses.

Terry: The Equestrian Center itself is just a few years old but that area around Tryon has a long history of catering to horse enthusiasts. You're a native of the area. Can you tell us about that history of equestrianism?

Johnson: Tryon has a very rich history.  The whole region does.  There are lots of different types of equestrian events. This is something I'm learning because I never grew up around the sport. The great thing about the equestrian center that we're starting to see now is that wide spread of disciplines and crowds that they draw. You might have one event one week that’s jumping and the next week you have a polo event and you've got a whole different group of people there. I think that goes to the long term success of this facility, just how versatile it can be with the events it hosts.

Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.