The FEI World Equestrian Games, with its eight disciplines, is an ambitious project for any entity to stage – hence the current absence of bids for the 2022 edition, if there is to be one.
But Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners and a variety of other enterprises from the East Coast to Colorado, always looks at things from a different perspective. Although the Tryon International Equestrian Center had less than two years to organize the 2018 WEG in North Carolina after Bromont, Quebec, bowed out, Mark as usual wanted to go above and beyond the usual set-up for such a competition.
Realizing that after summer vacation people will be back at work and their kids will be in school on the weekdays of WEG 2018’s Sept. 11-23 dates, he sought to offer something more so people could see sport in the evening, even if it wasn’t officially a WEG discipline.
He came up with the WEQx™ Games, designed as audience-friendly versions of traditional horse sports, such as “Derby X,” a team hunter competition and “world speed horse” for jumpers at 1.40 metres, instead of the bigger fences that will be seen in the WEG show jumping.
His thought was to “tap into the energy” of the WEG, which he sees as the “most transformational opportunity for equestrian sport in this country in the dimension of media exposure, sponsorship diversity and spectator participation.”
It turned out to be a bridge too far on the already complicated landscape of the WEG. Today Mark confirmed what I had been hearing for weeks – the WEQx™ Games will not be seen at this year’s WEG, where work is ongoing at warp speed in an effort to finish everything that needs to be done on the grounds before the opening ceremonies.
Mark’s staff advised he wasn’t “immediately available” to speak to me about this subject, but he did pass along a statement explaining what happened:
“The WEQx™ Games are postponed until next year due to a variety of factors. We began conversations for the event last June and didn’t receive all necessary approvals until June of this year. By that time, our summer circuit in Tryon was already in motion and we could not get qualifiers organized in such a short timeframe with the impending WEG,” he commented.
I had been told earlier this summer that there was a list of 200 riders who wanted to compete. At any rate, the second factor, he explained, “was the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) piroplasmosis testing for WEG, which complicated bringing additional horses onto (the) property, because they would have all required piroplasmosis testing, whether competing in WEG or not.”
Piro, a tick-borne blood disease, was considered a problem for equestrian events when Atlanta won the 1996 Olympic Games, and some were worried at the time that competitions involving horses would have to be moved elsewhere. It also briefly was a stumbling block for plans to hold the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, the first World Games to be held outside of Europe. But both events did go on to be presented without a problem.
A number of top European show horses test positive for piro, and it’s no big deal in Europe. But it’s rare in the U.S., and USDA of course needs to be careful. The concern is that a North Carolina tick could suck blood from a piro-positive horse, and then pass it on to other horses in the region. At WEG, the piro-positive horses will be stabled separately from the other horses in two barns dedicated to them alone.
Mark noted, “We appreciate the efforts of the FEI, USEF (U.S. Equestrian Federation), USDA, and everyone involved in working to make this happen. We are eager to host the inaugural WEQx™ Games in 2019. We had significant interest from a variety of rider groups and looking forward to hosting the event next year when we don’t have the complexity of piroplasmosis testing.”
Louise Serio had been excited about what the WEQx™ Games could do for her discipline, the hunters. As a non-FEI competition, hunters are not in the WEG, but they could have been on the stage as part of the new initiative. She was one of those who came up with the World Champion Hunter Rider concept in 1992, and looked forward to Derby X “bringing back a lot of the old features,” of hunter competition and adding another level to the evolution of her sport.
She worked on the concept for Derby X, but said Mark did not get back to her when she attempted to speak with him recently about rumors she had heard that the WEQx™ Games had been scrapped for this year.
The WEQx™ Games were not the only casualty of the WEG. The Rolex Central Park Horse Show, which was a success in the heart of Manhattan for the last four years, also was cancelled. Its show jumping competition would have had to begin only four days after the WEG show jumping ended, and a change of dates mandated by the WEG’s schedule would have had it running across from another big jumper show, the American Gold Cup in New York’s Westchester County. Plans call for the Central Park show to be held next year.
The WEQx Games™ were going to be part of the World Equine Expo™, which will be held during the WEG. Its offerings include a trade fair, educational activities, an equine film festival and an equine art festival, along with various exhibitions and entertainment acts.