Although the dressage center of the country shifts to West Palm Beach in the winter (not to mention the hunter/jumpers), my husband Henry and I never considered Florida when we were planning our retirement move a couple years ago. I was raised in Oregon, and I just don’t do heat well. Actually, I was pretty determined to stay north of the Mason-Dixon Line, until Henry pointed out the excellent weather in the Tryon NC area, coupled with its reputation as horse-friendly. We visited twice to see for ourselves, including in the heat of August, and made the move last year.
Now, in one sense, Florida is coming to us.
The partnership that runs the big shows in Wellington FL is all set to develop a 1,000-acre property just outside of Tryon, including a huge equestrian center that sounds a lot like Wellie World North. I attended the informational meeting for local landowners last week and then the Polk County council meeting Monday where the necessary rezoning was passed. All this has happened very quickly, because the property was purchased just late last fall, and plans are to go ahead and get facilities up and running by next year, if possible. Since economic development in the county has stalled over the last few years, with nothing else on the horizon, this should be a huge boon in jobs for the area, whose main “industry” already is horse-centered. It looks like it will be win-win for everyone.
My big question is whether this will indeed turn into Wellie World North for the three seasons that horse show folks aren’t in Florida. Will this be a pass-through area between the north/south migration or will people settle here – and when I’ve been hearing about the terrible weather everywhere else in the country this year, I have been smiling to myself that I picked an area where year-round riding is no problem – witness the very active two hunt clubs here that went non-stop the entire winter. I really hope that it won’t attract just hunter/jumpers but, of course, more dressage shows, clinics, and trainers, so I can get my dressage fix by just stepping out my front door instead of always driving to an airport.
Tryon Equestrian Properties is owned by Mark Bellissimo and Roger Smith, central figures in Wellington Equestrian Properties and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Smith has lived in the area here for a decade and has been active in local horse activities, and Bellisimo says that he will also build a home here. They purchased the property, which was designed originally as a golf/equestrian development but went under a couple years ago, for $11 million. They also purchased other adjacent land that will give direct access to the equestrian facility right off a highway exit, so trucks/trailers have easy access and won’t need to wind though the community.
The development, in addition to the golf course and other recreational facilities, will have 800 dwelling units, a hotel, retail stores, heliport, and an RV park, where presumably horse show nomads can hang out. The equestrian center will have a lighted stadium with seating for 6,000, covered arena and indoor arena. While all this development appears contained in the White Oak property, it remains to be seen, of course, how much of it will eventually bleed into the surrounding farmland and how much it will change, or not change, the inherent character of the area. One thing that may help preserve the rural nature is that the Tryon area is really not on a well-traveled path. We’re an hour north of Greenville SC and a couple hours west of Charlotte NC – people still have to go out of their way to get here.
The Tryon area already has two very active horse show facilities: Harmon Field where mainly hunter/jumper shows are held, and Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE), a multi-use nature preserve where a variety of shows, combined training events and even a steeplechase, are held. Another chunk of land in nearby Green Creek is also owned by Smith. Plans for an equestrian facility there have become stalled but the success of White Oak could revive that as well.
I am excited about the possibilities and keeping my fingers crossed that what makes Tryon such a nice place for me– the rural scenery, the friendly people, the inherent appreciation of horses – will only be enhanced by even more horses and horsepeople around for me to enjoy.