Equestrian Sport Puts Omaha on World Stage

The Omaha Equestrian Foundation was established in 2010 with the goal of developing the city into a hub for the horse sport industry.

The FEI World Cup™ Finals first visited Omaha, NE in 2017. But the city’s history in equestrian sport spans years before it.

Omaha, the largest city in the midwestern U.S. state of Nebraska, has established itself as a destination to showcase the United States’ niche sports. The city might be most well known as the annual destination for the College World Series in the sport of baseball, but the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials called Omaha home in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

It’s equestrian sport that has put the city on the international stage. The Omaha Equestrian Foundation was established in 2010 with the goal of developing the city into a hub for the horse sport industry. By 2012, the nonprofit organization founded the region’s first premier showjumping event in the region, known as ‘International Omaha’.

equestrian sport
PFUN Will Faudree USA

A year later, International Omaha added FEI competitions to its schedule, and by 2017, the city was hosting FEI World Cup Finals for both Jumping and Dressage. For 2023, Vaulting has been added to the championship program, and the 2022 International Omaha hosted five Vaulting divisions, including a qualifier for the 2023 FEI Vaulting World Cup™ Final.

“The event itself started off very much as a regional show with very big aspirations. The driver of the show, Lisa Roskens always had the World Cup Final in mind,” said Jon Garner, who has led the management team at International Omaha for the last decade. “When you walk into that venue for the first time, you realize that the hardest job is [already] done, because the venue is so spectacular.”

Both the International Omaha event and the FEI World Cup™ Finals are held at the CHI Health Center Omaha, located in the heart of the city’s downtown. The International Omaha event has grown from a horse show to a full-scale equestrian experience that garners the entire community’s involvement. Included in the annual schedule is an equine trade show, complete with educational demonstrations and clinics. Olympic gold medalist Melanie Smith Taylor, the 1982 World Cup Champion, hosted 2022’s event clinic.

Garner said, “Given that Omaha doesn’t have a major sports team, [residents and locals] get behind anything that comes here.  Omahans are very proud of their part of the world, and they like to showcase it. The city is behind it; there’s no question.”

With much of equestrian sport in the U.S. centred around east- and west- coast circuits, Omaha has provided a middle ground,  and has received great support from centrally located athletes and exhibitors. Previous winners of the International Omaha Grand Prix include World Cup Finals veteran Hunter Holloway (USA); Christian Heineking (GER); and most recently, Caelinn Leahy (USA).

But the event that has grown equestrian sport in Omaha the most has been “Local Day” and the Developing Rider Invitational Jumping event that kicks off the International Omaha event each year. The programme offers an opportunity for locally based young riders to qualify and compete at the venue in a beginner’s level ‘grassroots’-type division,

“The International Omaha event has always been well attended, and it’s getting harder for competitors to secure qualifying spots now.” Garner said. “Originally, they were riding school horses, and the attire was a bit of a mismatch. That is not the case now. The quality of the horses has improved, the riding and coaching is significantly better, and both horse and human athletes come far better prepared now.

“That’s been really good to watch,” he added. “One of the Foundation’s drivers is to impact and build the grassroots of the sport [in Omaha]. There is no question that has happened, and I think having a major venue and a major event in your backyard is a good driver of that.”

The FEI World Cup™ Finals returns to Omaha 4-8 April 2023.

To learn more, visit https://omaha2023.fei.org/

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