Amateur show jumper Lisa Roskens sets aside time six days a week for riding at her Far Hills Farm in Omaha, Nebraska—even if it’s at 5 a.m.—before her commute downtown to the offices of the Burlington Capital Group, an investment firm where she is chairman and CEO.
That type of dedication is what also helped Lisa convince the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) to award the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final and the FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final to Omaha—not exactly a hotbed of jumping and dressage.
After attending the 2009 FEI World Cup™ Finals in Las Vegas, Lisa went from the sidelines to the center of the action, realizing that the spacious CenturyLink Center in the heart of Omaha would be perfect for the competition since everything—from the arena to warm-up rings, stabling and vendors—could be under one roof.
As chairman of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, she is involved in all decisions concerning the March 27–April 2, 2017 finals with the hands-on daily work being handled by the foundation’s CEO, Mike West.
Horses have always been a big part of Lisa’s life, and her attraction started as a toddler. Her mother, Dr. Gail Walling Yanney, an anesthesiologist, and her father, Burlington founder Mike Yanney, moved to a development built around a horse farm. “They didn’t want anything to do with the horses. They just liked the view from the back window,” says Lisa. At age 3, she was playing in the backyard one day when her mother went to answer the phone. When she returned, she found that Lisa had crawled under a fence and was standing in the middle of a circle of horses, petting their noses. “Suffice it to say, every single day that the horses got near the fence, I was under it petting them,” Lisa laughs.
Gail and Mike decided the youngster needed a more organized program and connected her with friends who had Appaloosas. Lisa learned to ride Western, spending summers on a 55,000-acre ranch in western Nebraska, “a horse-riding girl’s dream,” where she would herd the cattle.
Lisa’s parents became friendly with the Mactier family, who own Ponca Hills Farm, and Lisa brought her roan Appaloosa, Strawberry Daiquiri, there to train to become a hunter. Amateur-owner jumper rider Jan Mactier, who trained with George Morris, took Lisa under her wing.
As Lisa focused on hunters, her family was supportive of her riding but had a simple philosophy about buying her horses. “We were in a situation where we could afford either talent or simplicity, so I always chose talent,” said Lisa. Her Junior Hunter was a 5-year-old Thoroughbred she trained. “I really did learn to ride and the fundamentals of how to bring along a horse,” recalls Lisa.
She switched to the jumper division under the guidance of Steve and Jenny Newell while on the West Coast for college at Stanford University because she liked to go fast “and I wasn’t going fast enough on the hunters.”
Asked about her biggest achievement as a rider, she replies, “There are classes I’ve won, ribbons that I’ve gotten, but what I take the most pride in is making the horses that come across my path better than when I found them. I love watching a young horse develop.”
Similarly, Lisa is also enjoying expanding equestrian sport in her home state, a pursuit that goes beyond the FEI World Cup™ Finals Omaha 2017. “I want to promote Nebraska and make it a place people want to locate,” she explains. “I realize what we lack is competitions and palm trees, but we have convenient land and we have agricultural land.”
Her involvement in the World Cup™ has plunged her into a universe she didn’t anticipate when she first thought of staging the finals. “I definitely feel like the dog that caught the bus,” chuckles Lisa, who has to balance Finals’ responsibilities with her work and time for her husband, Bill, and her two children. “But I’m even more excited than when I first thought about it because I understand how much good I think it can do for growing our region and our sport,” she emphasizes.
“It is an incredibly big undertaking. The nuances and details and all the various constituencies involved are much more complex than I knew. But I like a challenge.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.