Savannah R. Watts
Last weekend, June 6-10, the 95th Annual Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show (BRCHS) kicked off the summer’s three-event series with the Saddlebred Division. Since 1923, the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show’s mission has been “supporting education and worthy charities by encouraging and preserving the tradition of horse sports.” This nearly century old Horse Show is the oldest continually run show in the Eastern United States, and still one of the oldest for the whole nation. The BRCHS has two more events lined up for later this summer. Hunter/Jumper Division Week I on July24-29 and Hunter/Jumper Division Week II on August 1-5.
The long-standing history of horse sports in Blowing Rock dates back to two different events: the old-time rivalry between the Village of Blowing Rock and the Village of Green Park, and the establishment of the Moses H. Cone Manor. In the 1920s, horses and riders would participate in an organized race from Green Park to Blowing Rock and back. This well attended race was an intense and exciting event that became a tradition for a several years.
When Moses Cone, successful merchant and textile pioneer, built his home not far from Blowing Rock’s Main Street at the turn of the century, he also built 25 miles of Carriage Roads and Horse Trails that lead through his abundant 3,000 acres. Mrs. Cone often invited the public to enjoy their property, but the only way to explore all the “haints and hollers” of the Cone Estate was on foot, on horseback, or in a horse-drawn carriage. Still true today, these trails are what engaged the community in horseback riding and horse sports that developed the BRCHS.
Much like today, visiting the Cone Estate became a “must do” as Blowing Rock grew as a tourist destination. Visitors began taking more horseback rides along the 25 miles of trails that Moses Cone constructed. This required more stables and horse rental operations. One of the horse stable operators was Lloyd M. Tate, a horseman from Pinehurst who founded the Blowing Rock Horse Show.
In 1923, L.M. Tate held the first ever Blowing Rock Horse Show on Green Hill Road near the Green Park Hotel. His Horse Show was much quieter than the early races or gymkhanas before; however, over time Tate’s Horse Show acquired a more formal atmosphere with rules and decorum that reflected an official sporting event.
Soon after Tate’s first Horse Show, Thomas A. Broyhill had purchased much of what is known today as the Mayview section of Blowing Rock, which at the time consisted of about 1,000 acres of land. The BRCHS was moved to a small, little used golf course on Broyhill’s land in hopes to make the Horse Show an attraction for guests of the nearby Mayview Manor Hotel. In 1934, Broyhill sold the “horse show grounds” section of his land to the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show Association for only $1.00. This land is where the BRCHS is still held today.
Since 1923, the BRCHS has grown into a nationally respected and revered event in horse sports. Many riders and trainers, both amateur and professional, have been participating in the BRCHS for decades. The Horse Show has been uninterrupted for the past 95 years regardless of recessions, weather, or even World War II. It has survived each national crisis over the years and continues to hold strong in the High Country.
With more than 350 entries for the Saddlebred Division last weekend, the Horse Show continues to attract a large crowd to Blowing Rock. In 2012, Appalachian State University conducted an Economic Impact Study on the BRCHS. In just 21 days, the BRCHS reflected a $7.7 million positive impact for businesses in the region. Additionally, the BRCHS expresses their belief that the Horse Show is not just about horses and traditions of riding. “It’s also about supporting many charitable causes in and around Blowing Rock,” states Maurice Ewing in his history of the BRCHS.
Some local organization the proceeds of the Horse Show have given to include Blowing Rock Fire Department, Blowing Rock Rescue Squad, Watauga Humane Society, The Blowing Rock Rotary Club, and Horse Helpers of the High Country. With no surprise, BRCHS also contributes generously through the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to help preserve the Cone Estate’s Carriage Roads for public use. They also support Appalachian State’s Equestrian Team and other youth-oriented riding programs.
In 2014, the BRCHS was awarded the Heritage Competition designation by the United States Equestrian Federation—a title only 20 horse shows in the US hold. In 2015, they were featured by the US Hunters and Jumpers Association as part of the “Iconic Horse Shows” exhibit in the Wheeler Museum in Lexington, Kentucky. Two years ago, the entire Show Grounds property was named Broyhill Equestrian Preserve to honor Thomas Broyhill’s original gift of the site.
They have now been celebrating the tradition of horse sports in Blowing Rock for 119 years, and plan to continue this tradition for many more to come. The Broyhill Equestrian Preserve is open from May to October and holds 17 barns and 450 stalls. Their Main Ring is a 260’ x 135’ oval ring with a large grandstand, but they also hold a second ring at 225’ x 115’ as well as a third at 227’ x 140’. The Preserve also contains 35 camper locations with power and water hookups and can accommodate up to 22 horses for long-term stays at once. The Park’s Master Plan for the Preserve is in affect and their goal is to have it completed in time for their celebration of their 100th year in 2023.
The BRCHS has two more events left this summer in late July and early August. The Hunter/Jumper Division Week I will be held July 24-29, while the Hunter/Jumper Division Week II will follow August 1-5. The BRCHS has already been approved for next year’s dates of the Saddlebred Division which will be held June 6-9, 2019. For more information about this year’s events or to purchase tickets, visit https://brchs.org/.