Report from the International Omaha

The Longines FEI World Cup™ Show Jumping and Dressage Finals is a hard act to follow, but the 2017 host venue is continuing its innovative approach a year later.
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Hunter Holloway won the $130,000 International Omaha Grand Prix with Eastern Jam.

Hunter Holloway won the $130,000 International Omaha Grand Prix with Eastern Jam.

When International Omaha Director of Sport Jon Garner received the rather unexpected news several years ago that the fixture would be hosting the 2017 FEI World Cup™ Finals, he texted “Now what?” to Omaha Equestrian Foundation Chairman Lisa Roskens.

The organization found an answer and was more than up to the task. But at the conclusion of the spectacular finals that received international acclaim, the same question arose: Now what?

“You’re always looking for that continuing trajectory,” Jon said, while explaining, however, “It’s a little much to think you’re just going to keep on going that way.”

The upshot? “We really went on re-set,” he explained. “We’re almost starting the International again, with another focus on growth and how to get better.”

The 2018 show concluded yesterday at the Century Link Center as an enthusiastic crowd enjoyed its longtime feature, the $130,000 International Omaha Grand Prix, dominated by 21-year-old Hunter Holloway, who considers Omaha her home show because she lives 2 ½ hours away in Kansas. The youngest rider in the class, Hunter honed her skills as an equitation titleist (the ASPCA Maclay and the Washington International Championship).

She still has perfect form, but now it has been paired with the type of skills she displayed that enabled her to produce an upset of Christian Heineking. He had won the class four times and was hoping for a fifth victory. But Hunter rubbed it in by finishing both first and second with Eastern Jam and VDL Bravo S, relegating Christian to third and fourth on NKH Selena and NKH Caruso.

The inaugural $100,000 InIt2WinIt finals went to perennial Omaha winner Christian Heineking on NKH Caruso. 

The inaugural $100,000 InIt2WinIt finals went to perennial Omaha winner Christian Heineking on NKH Caruso. 

Don’t feel too bad for Christian though. He had his moment two days earlier with Caruso, when he won the inaugural finals of the RFD-TV $100,000 InIt2WinIt Speed Jumping Series. This year, the grand prix is no longer the only big draw at the show.

When the speed finals debuted last week, the schedule also included the innovative team dressage challenge with a $45,000 purse, unheard of at the lower levels of the discipline. The idea is to use the energy generated by the World Cup to grow show jumping and dressage in the Midwest.

The speed series had qualifiers in four cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver and Chicago. In all except Chicago, which was a new show, entries increased over the previous year as a result of hosting InIt2WinIt.

“We need an option for top riders in the Midwest who aren’t headed for one of the coasts,” said Kendra McConnell, horse show manager at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.

In order to keep all the classes at indoor shows, pending approval from the U.S. Equestrian Federation, Chicago was dropped and the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Texas will become part of the series. Val Garza, the operations manager there, said that competition at her facility’s shows, which include Pin Oak, “is pretty stiff. We wanted to encourage those who aren’t quite at that level yet to still have the experience of that level. We’re trying to grow that part of the industry. We’re hoping to help them step up a little bit.”

Riders are enthusiastic about having another option.

“The speed series has been a lot of fun,” said Lisa Goldman, who was third in the final with Hindsight, behind second-place Michael Burnett and Iron.

“I love that it draws the attention to the Midwest, when we have so much attention focused on California and the East Coast. I love that it brings everything back to the Midwest, where so many of the top riders have started.”

Lisa Roskens believes “It was very good for the horse shows to have this galvanizing event to give riders reasons to go to our regional horse shows. It’s created a great deal of excitement in Omaha, because Omaha is now hosting a championship event, although not on the scale of the World Cup finals.”

(Check out Lisa Roskens, who was riding in lower-level jumper classes in Omaha, by clicking HERE to see a video.)

  • But could there be another World Cup finals in Omaha’s future? “We are considering looking at another World Cup finals; we’re just not sure when it will fit appropriately in our planning,” Lisa Roskens said. “One of the reasons the World Cup was so special here was because it was part of a broader mission. We don’t want to do it again just to do it again. We want to do it again so it is part of a broader mission and we can recreate that special feeling with probably a new and different twist by then.”
  • So what’s next for Omaha? “We are starting to talk about next year and ideas we can tweak and improve,” said Lisa. “We don’t want to change much. We want to take what we’re doing and grow it. Usually, you need a year or two for things to get adopted.”
  • How did Hunter win? She said her veteran, Bravo, “showed me the way” to go clear and fast, but he is slower than the more sensitive Eastern Jam. “I knew I had taken a little more time than needed to on a couple of turns,” she said. While her time of 32.585 seconds for a clean round with Bravo put her in first place, she was still competitive—although only with herself, and as the last to go in the eight-horse jump-off, sizzled with tighter turns and leaving out strides at several fences to finish in 29.990 seconds with Eastern Jam.
  • Course designer Bernardo Costa Cabral of Portugal praised Hunter’s performance, saying it was “the perfect ride.” For his part, Christian commented, “I thought both her rides were great, but what she did to finish the class was really impressive. There was nothing that I, or anyone else, could have done to beat her today. She put in a spectacular performance and deserved to win.”