Tryon International Equestrian Center is one of North Carolina’s best kept secrets.


Equestrian enthusiasts know that Tryon is an international beacon for many of the world’s top athletes, but this robust center also offers events and entertainment for all levels of interest, including riding classes, fine dining, shopping, competitions open to the public, and exciting steeple chases.

Tryon hasn’t always been an equestrian paradise. The center is less than a decade old, but has quickly become a homegrown success as a result of hard working volunteers like local Tryon Estates residents Vincent and Rita Shimkus.

Volunteers – The Key to Success

Vincent and his wife Rita have been active volunteers in the Tryon International Equestrian Center since its inception. “My wife and I saw a big dust ball on top of the hill,” said Vincent, reminiscing about the first time they laid eyes on the construction work in 2014, “We knew we just had to be a part of it.” It was love at first sight.

Vincent is in his early 70’s and is a self-described cowboy at heart. As a vibrant retiree at the active retirement community Tryon Estates, he was eager to volunteer. Six months after Tryon Equestrian Center’s ground-breaking event, the center held its first horse show. What was originally intended as a seasonal facility quickly became a year-round enterprise. Since then, Vincent has taken the reins, overseeing the volunteer crew and handling security at the equestrian center. This has the added benefit of a front seat to premiere horse jumping competitions and festivities.

Equestrian center representatives credit volunteers like Vincent and Rita Shimkus in part for its rapid growth. Their passion about horses and enthusiasm encourages spectators, young and old, to keep coming back.

“They’re star volunteers,” said Michelle McConnell Yelton, public relations manager at Tryon International Equestrian Center. “The Shimkus are so welcoming. They have incredible knowledge about the facility. They just love being there. It’s hard to get more passionate than those two.”

Vincent and Rita Continue to be Workhorse Volunteers

Why do the Shimkus’ continue to spend their time volunteering? Because it’s not work when you are living your passion. There are many different ways people can find purpose in life after retirement, but Vincent truly enjoys the time spent with his wife working closely with the horses among other volunteer projects. For him, staying active and immersing himself in what he loves is the key to better aging. Sharing that joy with others makes it that much better. According to Vincent, “that’s why I stay so young. I don’t get to bed until 2:00 to 3:00 a.m. and I’m up again at 9:00 a.m.”

For these seniors, volunteering at the horse shows helps them feel as young as the school kids who visit the equestrian center’s “Saturday Night Lights,” an event much like a festival with live music and Grand Prix competitive show jumping.

“There are face painters, pony rides and street performers,” Vincent laughs with childlike excitement. “It’s hilarious! Children absolutely love the carousel. We greet the families and tell them about the horses.”

The Shimkus’ smiling faces are often the first to greet visitors at the entrance gate. With free admission to all its horse shows and complimentary parking, the center tends to attract new visitors who are unfamiliar with equestrian events.

Leading experts have found that committing to being fit for life helps individuals stay injury free and feel younger, and that’s exactly how Vincent feels. He finds his fountain of youth through optimism and giving spirit. His contagious positivity, equestrian knowledge and appetite for adventure rubs off on newcomers who are open to learning about a new sport.

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“He’s enthusiastic [about the horse competitions]. He presents it in a way that makes sense to everyone. For many of our visitors, this is the first time they’ve seen an equestrian competition of any kind,” said Yelton.

Why Tryon Estates Residents Love the Equestrian Center

The Shimkus’ are two of the many Tryon Estates residents to benefit from this world-class equestrian hub. Less than 10 miles away, the senior living retirement community continues to enjoy the volunteer opportunities and group activities offered at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Being a volunteer has its perks. “I get to watch the horses, either outside the door or the big jumbotron. It’s fantastic,” said Vincent.

And what does the equestrian center think about the influx of senior ranch hands? “We are so thankful for our Tryon Estates volunteers,” said Sharon Decker, Chief Operating Officer of Tryon Equestrian Partners. “They are making a difference for our guests every day.”

Besides volunteering or taking in a horse show, Tryon residents can enjoy festivals and concerts at the nearby center. Many older adults find it’s a peaceful place to walk or ride a bicycle.

Without dealing with high-traffic roadways, active seniors can enjoy the fresh air, Blue Ridge Mountain views and several rings to observe the horses while leisurely strolling around the grounds. Vince says he and Rita easily walk five miles a day.

“We enjoy it so much,” said Vincent. “This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened here.”

Does Tryon International Equestrian Center sound like a great place to retire? Check out 18 more reasons North Carolina is a great place to retire.

What’s Next For Tryon International Equestrian Center?

Over the past three years, the center has been home to an array of jumping competitions. In September 2018, Tryon will host the prestigious FEI World Equestrian Games, its first debut on the world stage. Equestrian enthusiasts from more than 70 countries trek to WEG host cities every four years to cheer on athletes from their native countries, much like the Olympic Games.