World Equestrian Games

American dressage athlete Laura Graves parades with the US flag during the opening ceremony for the FEI World Equestrian Games at the Tryon International Equestrian Center on Tuesday, Sept. 11

(Editor's note: this article has been corrected to reflect the true value of Starwood Capital Group.)

It's referred to as the Super Bowl of equestrian competition.

The World Equestrian Games are scheduled to kick off Wednesday at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, a small town about two hours west of Charlotte, and will run through Sept. 23 — although Hurricane Florence has the potential to postpone some events.

The games, which take place every four years — in the middle of the Summer Olympics cycle — at various locations around the world, will feature more than 600 equestrians from 71 countries and six continents competing in eight different disciplines. Nearly 700 horses will be competing in the 2018 Games, which are expected to attract more than a half-million people.

This is only the second time the WEG has been held in the United States. The other was eight years ago in Lexington, Kentucky.

Mark Bellissimo invested more than $200 million to build the Tryon International Equestrian Center after receiving the bid to host the Games. The facility features a temporary 20,000 seat stadium for the main events.

Some things to know about the event:


Many of the horses competing in the Games will be flown in from overseas on a Boeing 777, a large aircraft without seats. There is always a veterinarian on board in case a horse gets sick.


In equestrian events, men and women compete against one another, which is extremely rare in most major sporting events. In fact, the only other Olympic sport where men and women compete against each other is sailing.

The only exception in equestrian is vaulting, where men and women compete in separate events.


The WEG says on its web site it is preparing for the possible severe weather the storm system may bring to this area and has strategic and emergency plans in place for both the people and horses on-site. It says there are numerous multi-floored buildings at the venue and the permanent stabling is "secure and safe." They also have an evacuation protocol in place.


Equestrian competition is not for those who are a little light in the wallet. According to NPR , a dressage-trained horse can cost anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000 — and that doesn't even include the $12,000 uniforms.


Needless to say, the sport attracts the wealthy.

There had been some excitement that Jessica Springsteen, the daughter of rock-and-roll singer Bruce Springsteen would be competing for the U.S. team as a jumper — and that "The Boss" might make an appearance.

However, Springsteen withdrew her nomination earlier this summer because she did not have a horse that would be ready for the WEG. She was replaced on the team by Adrienne Sternlicht, the daughter of Barry Sternlicht, the founder of Starwood Capital Group, an investment fund with $56 billion in assets.


The eight core disciplines of equestrian are jumping, dressage and para-equestrian dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting and reining.

Dressage, para-equestrian dressage, jumping and eventing are Olympic events, and the World Equestrian Games serves as the first opportunity for athletes to earn team spots for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

— Dressage: Think prim and proper when you think of dressage. The riders wear black and dark top hats and tailcoats with white pants and gloves. They ride on horses who perform at walk, trot and canter with all of the motions performed by the horses strictly from memory through a pre-trained pattern of movements. Para-dressage is similar, but those riders with lesser skills or disabilities compete.

— Driving: The driving competition is where three team members are pulled by four horses in a carriage and compete in full-speed events, as well as turns.

— Jumping: This is the most popular event and one the casual viewer may be most familiar with. The event is self-explanatory, where horses jump over a series of obstacles while racing for the best time. Riders can accumulate penalties if their horse knocks down a bar.

— Endurance: This is basically the marathon of horse racing, where horses compete in a 100-mile race.

— Eventing: Consider this the triathlon of equestrian competition, held over three days with riders competing in dressage, endurance and jumping.

— Reining: When you think of reining, think old Western cowboys competing in an arena in various events. Horses are asked to move in circles, fast and slow canter, along with sliding and spinning across the dirt.

— Vaulting: This is a little like watching a circus act, where riders essentially play the role of gymnasts — often times doing handstands on horseback — and are judged by their stunts.


The event will be aired exclusively in the United States on NBC, NBC Sports Network, and the Olympic Channel. NBC is planning to broadcast nearly 65 hours of the Games.


The WEG estimates the potential economic impact of $400 million in the region.


The tickets for the event begin at $20 for a grounds pass, but run up to $1,380 for an "all games" pass for the entire two weeks.