Up for a FREE new adventure only a short drive from that the whole family will love? Tryon International Equestrian Center is only an hour or so from Greenville and a unique experience you will look forward to visiting again and again! We’ll fill you in on where this hidden secret is, what they offer and why you should visit!
Recently my mom and I met a lady from Landrum who shared with us her love for the Tryon International Equestrian Center. She was a really nice lady, but I honestly didn’t pay her much attention. You’ve been there, right? No offense to the lady, but I was just smiling and nodding my head to be nice. I had no intention of actually visiting Tryon, NC. I knew nothing of the town, so no thanks. (And why would I leave Greenville to visit a town no one’s ever heard of?)
Later that day we were sitting in the living room wondering why in the world we were sitting in the living room. The weather outside was gorgeous. The sun was shining and the temperature was pleasant, for lack of a more colorful word. We found ourselves falling into the abyss of, “so what do you want to do today?”
Mom finally spoke up and said, “You know, we could drive to Tryon and check out the Equestrian Center.”
Why not, I thought. It’s not far from Greenville and it was something to do. We grabbed the kiddos and set out to find this unfamiliar destination. Despite the cloud of pessimism hovering over my head, I slapped on a smile and decided to enjoy the day.
What we discovered in Tryon, NC
The forty-five-minute ride to Tryon was like driving across the picture on a postcard. Please note: as you drive up Highway 26, drive the speed limit. Troopers literally tuck themselves along the side of the road in an attempt to catch you speeding. The only reason I know this is because a friend told me. Really, it is. (Wink).
I perked up the moment we arrived. There is a security guard stationed at the gate to answer all your questions. Having never been, we had a lot. Although the festivities didn’t begin until the evening, the kind officer encouraged us to “have a look around.” So we did.
Four words came to mind: Who needs Churchill Downs? As soon as you enter the grounds, there is so much see. We went when there was nothing going on. I can only imagine what it looks like during events! The first thing our little one spotted was the carousel. There were restaurants and food/drink vendors galore. I won’t go as far as to compare it to Disney World but, during an event, Tryon International Equestrian Center could easily be the happiest place in North Carolina.
Before I go any further, allow me to share with you the best part of our journey. It wasn’t the shops, food or horses; nope, my favorite thing was the freshly squeezed lemonade. The real-life lemonade stand was parked right up front (at least it was the day we went) and they squeeze your drink right in front of you. It cost more than a quarter, but was well worth it.
But let me tell you about an event at the TIEC that just may rival some time at Disney – and it’s free.
Saturday Night Lights at Tryon International Equestrian Center
One of the coolest things about the TIEC is their free Saturday Night Lights program that starts in early summer and runs through October. The 2023 season kicks off May 13, 2023. You really won’t believe it’s free once you get there and find all the stuff they have for you to do.
The Venetian carousel is a fan favorite and anyone can see why – it’s so pretty. And it’s not just for kids. I’ve ridden it many times and it’s just as fun for me as for my kids. You can ride it as many times as you like at Saturday Night Lights. For free. Yup, just keep riding.
Saturday Night Lights did have pony rides when we went in 2023 and they’ve had them in years past but it seems to be hit or miss. So if your kid really, really loves pony rides, maybe just don’t tell them anything about it until you get there and see if they have them that night.
These are wildly popular and they are the first things you’ll see when you enter the facility so get in line right away if you want to do it. You’ll have to sign a waiver and your kid will get fitted for a helmet and get a ride around once or twice in a circle. The horses we saw were really pretty and the staff was great.
When we went opening night of summer 2023, we just fell in love with the face painter – and her adorable daughter- they have there. She runs The Sea Mither Face Painting out of nearby Hendersonville, NC and she is really, really good. Go see her when you go (get in line first thing when you get there).
While everything, even face painting, is free, there are tip jars out there if you want to leave something for a job well done.
Also, if you don’t want to wait in the line to have your face painted, you can sit for some crescent glitter done by the Sea Mither’s daughter, who is just oh-so-cute and does a great job! My youngest daughter went to her and walked away looking pretty awesome with her glitter moon that outlined the side of her face. Happy kid. There’s also sidewalk chalk inside the face painting area, which is great for kids to play with while they wait.
Mechanical Horse, Bounce House & Live Music
Saturday Night Lights really has things for every age. There is a horse bounce house, a mechanical horse (like a mechanical bull you may have seen in a country western bar but for any age!), and a great band. We loved listening to the band while we ate dinner and the kids played with hula hoops and ran and jumped over kid-size horse jumping obstacles.
Food & Drinks
There are vendors with fresh-squeezed lemonade and adult beverages plus places to grab dinner. There are different food trucks every time plus a sushi restaurant, a taco and nachos place (delicious by the way), an Italian restaurant, a diner, and an American grille.
You can sit anywhere you like but we have loved to sit on the green hill on the west side of the stadium because kids can roll down it in between horse jumping. Or you can sit and listen to the band or wherever else you want to sit and eat.
One pro tip during the cooler months of early fall: bring blankets! It gets chilly and we saw so many people with blankets and considered them geniuses. They also looked very cozy. In the General Store, they sell coffee and hot chocolate, which I’d definitely recommend as well.
Horse Jumping Competition
While all the excitement of the free activities is a lot of fun, there is also a pretty incredible horse jumping competition that happens at 8 pm (7 pm during the fall) during Saturday Night Lights. You can sit anywhere you want in the stadium. I love sitting really close to the arena so I get a good look at the horses as they jump right in front of me.
Let me just say: I know nothing about this kind of competition. Like, zero. What I’ve gathered is that the rider loses points if the horse knocks down one of the bars they have to jump over or goes over the amount of time they have to complete the course. And the winner gets a lot of money. You also cannot be cheering and clapping while the horse is jumping the obstacles but you can cheer after they are done with their run.
All that to say, even though I have zero clue what is happening, I absolutely love it, as do my kids. The horses are stunningly beautiful and agile and just so amazing. We all love watching them.
Fall 2023 Parking Fee
Due to rising costs, the TIEC will be charging a $10 parking fee after 4 pm for Saturday Night Lights. If you arrive before 4 pm, there is no charge.
All the free events happen 6-8 pm and then the competition goes from 8 pm to around 10 pm.
From September 23rd on, the activities run from 5-7 pm and the competition starts at 7 pm.
Here is the 2023 schedule:
- May 13th
- May 20th (Touch A Truck)
- May 27th (Military Appreciation Night) – CANCELLED DUE TO BAD WEATHER
- June 3rd (Arts Market)
- June 10th (Dog Night)
- July 1st (Flag Night)
- July 8th (Beach Night)
- July 15th (Blacksmith Event)
- July 22nd (Christmas in July – Santa visits, early Christmas shopping, holiday music!)
- July 29th (Touch A Truck)
- September 23rd (First Responders Night)
- September 30th (Pumpkin Weekend)
- October 7th
- October 14th (Breast Cancer Awareness)
- October 21st (Oktoberfest)
- October 28th (Tryon Trick or Treat)
Plan your own trip to Tryon International Equestrian Center
In addition to Saturday Night Lights, TIEC hosts a wide array of events that are also open to the public. See the complete calendar of events here. They also have lodgings right there at the equestrian center, which we imagine would be awesome to stay in.
Tryon International Equestrian Center
4066 Pea Ridge Road, Mill Spring, NC
Would your family love a visit to Tryon International Equestrian Center?