Elma Garcia is an equestrienne (and filmmaker) who recently resettled in Mill Spring. Her farm is just a horseshoe toss away from the world-class Tryon International Equestrian Center. She and her horse won a national championship in 2017, in two classes at the Kentucky dressage finals, among other awards. Bold Life caught up with Garcia as she was training for her next event and looking forward to the official opening of equestrian season in the Tryon area.
Did you move here to be near the TIEC?
We moved because dressage in Southern California, where I lived, was becoming really small. I had to come east to keep competing. My husband and I bought near a golf club because we love golf. But the same week we closed on our Black Barn Farm, they announced the Equestrian Center was coming to Tryon.
That’s lucky timing.
Oh my God — unbelievable! Tryon is 12 minutes away and I love its show grounds. Best in the country, by far. It’s just amazing. It doesn’t get any better than this. One thing we love most is the local people. And it’s close enough to Florida to go there in the winter and compete.
Is there an overlap between filmmaking and dressage competition?
There is artistry in dressage, an aesthetic similar to how I see the world as a filmmaker. A personal aesthetic connection. Those are my two passions, and filmmaking — I direct TV commercials — makes money I can spend on my horses. And I have a robot camera that follows me around the ring while I ride. My coach, who lives in England, can watch and talk to me in my earbuds.
That’s fascinating. How’d you get into competitive riding?
I was a barrel racer as a kid. But I stopped at age 18 and went to college and started my career. I didn’t get back into it until I was in my 40s.
What prompted you to start riding again?
I was racing my Porsche …
That’s a whole other interview!
I came off the racetrack and patted the dashboard, like how you pat a horse on the neck. It made me go “Hmm.” I got back into horses with a horse that needed rehab. To do rehab, I had to do dressage, because that was what was best for her body. But at the time, I didn’t even know what dressage was. [The non-racing competitive discipline has ancient roots and involves meticulously coordinated movements between horse and rider.]
How’d you learn it?
I went to a benefit auction and bid for a month of training with Debbie McDonald, who was an Olympian. We raised a lot of money for a good cause, and that was the beginning of my dressage career.
Wasn’t an award named after you?
My husband was the highest bidder in an auction for
naming rights for an award. It was given to horses that competed in the Adult Amateur Hunter and/or Children’s Hunter divisions. He named it after me. It’s a way for us to support the community.
Tryon kicks off its equestrian season with The Fork, one of North America’s most prestigious multi-day events in dressage, cross country, and show jumping, at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (4066 Pea Ridge Road, Mill Spring, tryon.coth.com). Tryon Horse Heritage Week begins at the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center on Saturday, April 13 (3381 Hunting Country Road, fence.org) with horse trials; on Thursday, April 18, a parade happens in downtown Tryon (5pm) followed by a free community barbecue at Harmon Field (117 Harmon Field Road, Tryon). On Sunday, April 14, the annual Art of the Horse Live Auction Gala happens at Caitlyn Farms (286 AR Thompson Road in Mill Spring; tickets through eventbrite.com): This public-art campaign features 32 life-sized fiberglass horses painted by local artists; 15 will be auctioned off to benefit programs of Our Carolina Foothills (ourcarolinafoothills.com). The Tryon Riding and Hunt Club’s Carolinas Show Hunter Hall of Fame induction and the Elma Garcia Award will be announced Friday, May 3, at the Aiken Charity Horse Show in Aiken, South Carolina (carolinasshowhunterhalloffame.com).