The AEC Buzz

AEC’s start today, and the past month or so leading up to this competition has been interesting to watch. After USPC championships, the inaugural eventing competition at Tryon International Equestrian Center, the eventing community was buzzing. Why? Because at USPC Championships, XC was run 100% on the derby field and in sand arenas.


As soon as pictures and video got out, the internet does what the internet shall always do… they went nuts. Some people liked the format, stating that it was very easy for spectators to see everything. Other people hated it, saying that this isn’t cross country. Rumors continued to spread about the facility not being ready for cross country, not having true XC courses to offer at any point, etc. That sparked another wave of concern over what the AEC courses would look like. Several people scratched, not wanting to travel that far and pay that much money to risk running a derby style XC course.

USEA and TIEC immediately went into damage control mode, assuring the public that the XC course would be ready in time for AEC.  A drone video was even released of the xc course (which is actually only a part of the track, the only part that is outside of the arena areas), and then the provisional AEC course maps hit the web. This pacified some people but absolutely incensed others, depending on whether or not you liked what you saw.

last year’s AEC’s at Texas Rose

It was interesting to me to watch this whole thing play out. There were those who were so enamored with TIEC as a facility that they didn’t really care what the XC was like (as long as it was safe, of course). They liked the fancy permanent stalls and the built-in tack rooms and the resort feel and the manicured spaces. H/J land gets that a lot, but it’s pretty rare in eventing. The other side was adamant that this was an apocalyptic moment, the beginning of the end of eventing as we know it… here comes the big money and here comes the h/j-ized version of eventing.


Personally, I can see both sides. Who doesn’t love top notch amenities at a show? Super cramped tent stabling and running 15 extension cords to work a fan aren’t exactly dreams come true. Having come from Jumperland, I can say for sure that I went to certain shows because I liked the atmosphere and VIP feel. But what you think about this whole thing seems to depend on where your priorities lie. Some people don’t want 75% of their XC fences to be in arenas or on a flat derby field. Tossing in one manicured gallop stretch with a couple hills on it isn’t enough to get them excited. At least not enough to drive a long way and drop lots of money on one event, regardless of how nice the barns are and how many restaurants you have on site.


Other people think that this is the direction that eventing needs to move in, if it wants to survive – a Wellington Showcase type of format. To be made more spectator friendly, to take up less space, and to be easier to set up at a facility by using mostly portable fences. Some people just really like how pretty and fancy everything is, giving a much “richer” feel to the sport in general. And the fact that, in this format and using this kind of space, you can very closely maintain the footing to near perfection is a huge draw to a lot of people.

I’m curious to hear what others think, and where their priorities lie. Are you willing to acquiesce to a derby style XC if it means perfect footing and world class amenities? Or are you a holdout for the traditional XC courses – imperfect footing, lack of spectators, and bare bones facility be damned?



25 thoughts on “The AEC Buzz

  1. IMO, that’s not a XC course… that’s XC jumps in an arena. The changing terrain is a big part of what it means to jump cross-country, and without that, I don’t think it’s a “legit” cross-country course!


  2. Honestly, and I’m actually a little surprised at myself to say this, but I don’t really have an opinion on the matter. One of the attractions of eventing to me is the variety in it. Every venue is a little different. For instance, I love loch Moy, home of the Maryland horse trials, and it tends to be fairly manicured and pristine. Tho it also has hills and woods, but is hardly “rugged”. But I’ve also enjoyed the courses I have been on that definitely felt like we were really just galloping along the countryside jumping whatever stood in our path (Waredaca felt a little more like this). And maybe fair hill’s HTs are somewhere in between?

    Idk. I basically like it all. But then again I’m also not the market here, since I’m not shelling out the dollars for even the USEA recognized events.


  3. I have a while to go before I compete in a full HT but what drew me to eventing in the first place was the xc phase. Galloping across hill and dale, through the woods and water, jumping solid fences (or in my case mostly trotting at weenie level). If I wanted to do a hunter derby, I’d have started riding at a hunter barn (no offense to hunters though. I admire it, just don’t aspire to it).

    And I like a bit of the rough and ready vibe you get at an event that makes the whole thing seem like one big team (I’ve volunteered, groomed, spectated at a few and rode a dressage test that one time). I feel like the more expensive amenities might shift that vibe to something too polished and formal. But that is just my story.

    This all being said, whenever I buy a lottery ticket I dream of buying a crap-ton of land of varying terrain and building out a venue with a focus on a kick ass x-country course and some comfortable amenitites for horse and rider.

    It doesn’t hurt to dream now does it? lol


  4. I had no idea this was all happening, lol. Interesting though. I find it poor sportsman-like to throw a tantrum and scratch, but maybe that is just me. I get the draw of XC on open terrain and rolling hills, varied footing, etc, but I think that type of “XC” could fun too. Plus its the freaking AECs! Go!
    However, I DO see where the bustle and hype is coming from having evented for years and loved the sport for what it was.. Eventing has always been more of a rough sport and the rough amenities were part of the weekend. Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but it was part of it. I can see why people might concerned that the type of XC plus new amenities might be straying away from what eventing has always been. Though, I think its time for a change (it IS 2016) and this might be a cool step in the right direction. I really don’t know though, kind of rambling here…


    1. Gotta be honest, if I had entered I would have seriously considered scratching too. This makes me very glad I decided to spend my money at Coconino instead of at AEC this year. I don’t think Tryon is the venue for me, but I look forward to going when it’s in Colorado! They don’t seem to be hurting for entries, either way. 😉


        1. I just don’t like it, personally. Despite Bellissimo’s vision, I don’t want eventing to turn into a big money spectacle with a WEF type feel, and I really don’t like the derby style cross country. So I would “put my money where my mouth is” and choose to not support it with my dollars. Considering this one show would have cost me around 2k to attend, I’d rather that money go to other USEA shows and venues who are doing things that I like. And it did… it went to Coconino and the Classic 3 Day.


  5. Not an eventer, but I am a local to the facility and have been there to spectate a bunch. I even went to the USPC championship to watch and look through the vendor area. So…from my point of view here are my thoughts:

    The facility is really inviting to spectators. The multitude of restaurants, delis and stores, the easy to access arena viewing spaces and the free entry/free parking make it a friendly place for friends and family or just casual observers to come and enjoy a wonderful afternoon in the mountains of NC.

    The tack shops on site seem to make it easier on those showing who forgot something or had something break and are in need of a replacement last minute. They are expensive, but so is everything in a high demand situation.

    The place always looks half finished and I personally was surprised that they were able to host AECs. The parking lot is half done, the trailer parking is out in no mans land near the highway (at a show this summer someones trailer was stolen) and while the dressage and jumping arenas look great the rest of the show grounds just look like they only began to build them.

    Overall, the impression I get is a facility that wants to play with the big boys such as the Kentucky Horse Park, but doesn’t have the actual space to do so and is trying to make up for that by dazzling participants with fancy sidewalks, a carousel and permanent stalls. Do I think it is the best venue for AECs, no and I sincrely hope they do not win the bid for WEG in 2018.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I live out here too, about 30 minutes away and have been up many times. While it definitely needs continued work, I don’t think space is an issue – they just acquired an additional 120 acres. I think it’s just a matter of time – KY HP is almost 40 years old so they’ve had the time to establish themselves. You can’t build a venue overnight and it’s just going to take time to get it on level with the big boys.


  6. Interesting. The American Endurance Riding Conference (AERC) traditionally has defined endurance as 50 miles or more. However, recently there has been talk of reducing the defined endurance mileage to open the sport up to more people. Lots of reasons given but primarily because of the decreasing natural areas to ride the minimum 50 miles (true) and fewer people having the resources and time to commit to training/riding/traveling to these events which generally require overnight stays in austere locations (true). Apparently people are wanting to drive to a location, ride, then go home the same day and also get ‘endurance’ credit – which if 50 mile is the minimum distance (about 9 hours of riding) really makes that difficult. So if they drop the distance to say 25 or 30 miles (4-5 hours) it becomes something people can squeeze in on a weekend and still go home and binge watch NETFLIX. I suppose like anything it all comes down to money. What is going to generate the most money for AERC/USEA/AEC/WEG/etc? Fewer and fewer regular people have the time and money to spend on horses so how can these organizations capitalize on the customers they have and how to attract new ones? Make the venue easy access for competitors and spectators. Feed them. Wow them with shiny things. Get them out of there quick so they have instant gratification and resumption of their ‘normal’ life. For the record, if I was an eventer I would be pissed. But then again, maybe I’m just jaded.


    1. No, I’m kind of with you on that Terri. The best thing (to me) about eventing is how affordable it is, comparatively. A jumper show would cost me $1200. An event costs me $400. Money goes with money… if you want fancy, someones gotta pay, and it’s gonna be us. That would put the sport out of reach for lots of us. We’ve already seen the creep happening. I don’t need to be wowed with fancy things, I just want a sport that I can have fun with and feel a part of. I have a big fear of what falls by the wayside when the priority becomes big fancy shiny things and more money.


  7. I’ve done little to educate myself on what’s going on at Tyron (other than learning they require vendors to set up shop for an entire season). The notion of an XC course run on a derby field and in an arena is dreadful. I’ve always thought of terrain as part of the XC test; the terrain here in Oklahoma is a lot like a derby field- flat and treeless- but NC has much more varied terrain, and I think it does the sport a disservice to compete this way. I think it’s especially egregious to run the AECs this way. You’re hosting a championship competition for the best in the sport; make the competition less about spectators and more about competitors.


  8. I’m a hold out. I honestly cant afford the H/J version of eventing, so thats a main factor. But putting it all in a derby field – what’s the difference between that and the hunter derbies they use to have (the ones with the solid obstacles – I know not all venues do that). Eventing is surviving just fine, at least in area 2. Maybe with not quite the numbers of pre 2008 economy collapse, but I believe we have more venues and HTs. We don’t need the Mark Bellisimos to swoop in and save us, most middle class eventers are not going to be able to play when the costs go up to Wellington price tags. Spectators aren’t going to pay my way and I doubt they will ever show up to watch us lower level riders anyway.


  9. I just feel like more and more we are moving into arenas and smaller spaces, windier and more technical courses and some of the fun of riding is being lost. Riding your horse over varied terrain, letting them open up their stride across open country is the greatest feeling. I wouldn’t enter an event like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My trainer is there with some other students, and he is not impressed. He’s got his course design cert, and does a few of the events in the area and knows his stuff. Besides being completely unimpressed with the derby feel to the whole thing, he’s been taking some videos and photos of some of the jumps and the placement of them is downright dangerous. There is a Prelim fence that unless you angle it, looks like it’s going to put you right into the wrought iron boundary fence. I’m looking forward to hearing what he thought of the whole experience when he’s back next week, but I would say he wouldn’t be going again or encouraging any of this students to be making the trek unless big changes are made. I get that different courses in different areas will be different (bet Texas courses look a lot different from Connecticut ones!) but I’m really turned off by the derby style that Wellington and now apparently Tryon are encouraging.


    1. One of the waters has a big screen on one side and the bleachers on the other… like RIGHT next to it. Better hope you don’t have a spooky horse and can steer!


      1. I wish I could link a video my trainer took. But, it shows an Advanced fence set about four feet away from the wrought iron boundary fence that isn’t very high, and on the other side of that fence is a 20 foot drop down to the next level. It’s terrifying to think what could happen if a horse refused or got loose and tried to get away and thought about jumping.


  11. I want a traditional xc course. If this is the direction all of eventing is going, my pony and I will just stick to showing dressage and jump at home for fun. I’d really prefer jumpers to dressage but I want ride times.


  12. Not an eventer by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve always been a fan of the traditional XC course. I’m sure the experience at Tryon would still be cool, but it doesn’t have that Eventer feel to it – not like when you posted about previous venues.


  13. For me, its about great footing and a friendly atmosphere. And pretty goes a long way, but I am not talking about fancy. Just a pretty setting. I want it to be safe and fun. On a long xc course where I am not making a bunch of turns. I guess you’d say I am more of a traditionalist for the sport. For sure.


  14. i really wanted to try for AECs this year at BN and then everything went to shit. was initially sad, now just looking at aiming for novice long format at waredaca in either 2017 or 2018.

    freakin EN posted a course walk today and there aren’t any banks or ditches. on a championship course. and forget about the lower levels, this is at ADVANCED.

    how the tit do they think they’re going to host weg in 2018. i hope the other place gets it.


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