Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show celebrates its 94th Anniversary in 2017

BRHS Circa 1940Don't_Look_Back_Farm

In just a few short years, the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show will be celebrating a century of horse showing in this revered mountain town. That day will be a thrilling time for the Horse Show, but it will also celebrate 126 years of Horse Sports in the High Country.

The Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show has enjoyed a checkered history. The Lenoir News Topic carried an article on September 8, 1897 which referred to the “Tournament at Green Park.”

“You ought to have seen it! It was decidedly the most picturesque pageant of the season. From the Hotel piazzas to the white Green Park letters on the opposing hillside it was one bright flutter of gayety”. Green Park’s porches were lined with people eager for the beginning of the tournament which was to take place on the road immediately before them.”

This event was a gymkhana consisting largely of games on horseback, which can best be described as an equine fashion show for the amusement of Green Park Hotel guests.

In those days there were two communities which made up what is now Blowing Rock. One was the Village of Blowing Rock which is now a well known resort community. But there was also the Village of Green Park which unlike today had its own community identity centered largely around the Green Park Hotel. There was an official post office in the lobby of the hotel. In the early 1920’s there was a fierce rivalry between the two villages.

In celebration of that rivalry there was an organized horse race from Green Park to Blowing Rock and back. It was an exciting, intense and well-attended event which was held for several years in the early 1920’s.

The history of horse sports in Blowing Rock can also be traced to the turn of the century when Moses Cone, the successful merchant and textile pioneer, built his grand home not far from Main Street in Blowing Rock. His passion for engineering and construction led to the building of 25 miles of Carriage Roads and horse trails around and through his lush 3,000 acre estate.

When Mrs. Cone invited the public to enjoy her property, 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. That is still true today.

As Blowing Rock continued to grow as a tourist destination, a horseback ride in the Cone Estate became a must-do activity for summer visitors. This of course meant that more livery stables and horse rental operations sprang up to accommodate the tourists. Lloyd M. Tate, a horseman from Pinehurst, was one of those seasonal livery stable operators.

Blowing_Rock_Show_Postcard_1950sIn 1923 Mr. Tate held his first Blowing Rock Horse Show on Green Hill Road, just up the mountain behind the Green Park Hotel. This was a much tamer event than the earlier gymkhana or the rowdy horse race.

Under the headline “BLOWING ROCK HORSE SHOW AND RIDING CONTEST,” another Lenoir News Topic article dated August 12, 1926, suggests the show continued on Green Hill for at least six years.

“The site chosen for the horse show is Green Hill, which rises just behind the [G]reen Park Hotel. It is a perfect spot for an outdoor gathering. The track for the contestants circles the crown of the hill; within it is space for the judges’ stand and spectators, while all around the outer rim is ample parking ground for automobiles.”

During these early years, the show gradually took on a more formal atmosphere with rules and decorum better fitting an official sporting event, but though the years it remained a “fun show” as it was often referred to by Mr. Tate. After decades of expansion and improvements to both the facility and to the level of competition, the show has never lost its “fun show” appeal.

By the mid-1920’s Mr. Tom H. Broyhill had purchased much of what we know today as the Mayview section of Blowing Rock, being around 1,000 acres at the time. The horse show moved to a small, little-used golf course on land owned by Mr. Broyhill; the intention being to make the horse show an attraction for guests of the nearby Mayview Manor Hotel. In 1934 Mr. Broyhill sold the “horse show grounds” to the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show Association for the tidy sum of $1.00. While over the years additional land has been added to the original tract, the show is still held on that site today. The current main arena rests on the same Mayview site as the original show ring.

The Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show has been held un-interrupted by recessions, depressions, foul weather, or even World War II, with its gas rationing which severely limited vacation travel. It has survived one national and regional crisis after another, and the show is stronger today in every respect than it has ever been before.

The Blowing Rock Horse Show has also survived long enough to be among the oldest continuously operating horse shows in the country. This annual event is respected and revered by hundreds of riders and trainers, both amateur and professional, some of whom have been competing in Blowing Rock for decades.

In 2014 the United States Equestrian Federation awarded Blowing Rock the coveted Heritage Competition designation, wherein Blowing Rock Horse Show joined a stellar collection of 20 other iconic American horse shows. In 2015, the US Hunter and Jumper Association in Lexington, KY, featured Blowing Rock in an exhibit of two dozen iconic American Horse Shows. The museum space in the Association’s headquarters is named for Sally and Kenneth Wheeler; longtime exhibitors, supports and friends of the Blowing Rock show. In 2014 the Blowing Rock Art and History museum presented a feature exhibit on the history of the horse show which featured a documentary prepared by the Documentary Film Division at Appalachian State University

The show is not only about horses and the traditions of riding in the Highlands; it’s also about supporting many worthy causes in and around Blowing Rock. Over the years, proceeds from the show have supported many local organizations including:

  • Blowing Rock Fire Department
  • Blowing Rock Rescue Squad
  • Watauga County Humane Society
  • The Blowing Rock Rotary Club
  • Horse Helpers of the High Country
  • Saddlebred Horse Rescue, Inc.

The Foundation places a high priority on encouraging youth interested in horsemanship, so the Foundation proudly supports Appalachian State University’s Equestrian Team and other youth riding programs in the High Country.

Another important contribution is the annual grant, through the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, to the preservation and maintenance of the Cone Estate’s Carriage Roads, the public use of which inspired the popularity of recreational riding in Blowing Rock more than a century ago.

The Horse Show, its parent Foundation and the “Show Grounds” are managed by a volunteer board of directors who see their duty as not just producing a top-drawer competition to attract riders and spectators from across the country, but is also about preserving the grand traditions of horse sports in Blowing Rock. This cherished tradition that has been handed down for safe keeping by the pioneers of recreation in the North Carolina Highlands, and by the generations of those who have loved Blowing Rock because of horse sports.

In 1999 The Blowing Rock Horse Show Association was reorganized as the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show Foundation and the Horse Show site was named the Blowing Rock Equestrian Preserve. This was the first of many changes made in an effort to assure the survival of the show and equestrian activities in the High Country. In 2016 the Preserve was renamed the Broyhill Equestrian Preserve honoring Mr. Tom Broyhill’s 1934 contribution and the long-time support of the Broyhill family which has continued for all the decades since.

The Horse Show, the Broyhill Preserve and the Foundation continue to embrace the future while honoring and celebrating its illustrious past. The centennial celebration which is so close will surely be a grand celebration of the Tate family, the Broyhill’s, and the thousands of riders, trainers, horse owners, sponsors and volunteers who have dedicated so much time, money and energy to this grand Highland tradition.