In so many sports, from soccer to cricket and rugby, the words “World Cup” signify the apex of competition, usually held in major cities across the globe. Equestrian world cup finals are no exception, having been hosted in such far-flung venues as Paris, Berlin, Las Vegas, Geneva and Kuala Lumpur.
Omaha, Nebraska, will join their glamorous ranks this year from March 29–April 2, when the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping and the FEI World Cup™ Dressage Finals Omaha 2017 are presented in the CenturyLink Center. Organizers see it not only as an opportunity to showcase the best in each discipline but also to grow horse sports in the Midwest and introduce many more people to the joy of watching equestrian competition at a level of international excellence.
“Obviously, the horse show was incredible,” said show jumper Andrew Welles, who had never been to Omaha until competing in the test event at the International Omaha competition last spring. “But Omaha itself—the downtown area, the restaurants, the culture–the vibe was unbelievable there,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be really excited when they see it next year.”
The CenturyLink Center downtown, just 10 minutes from the airport, offers room for stabling, warm-up, vendors, restaurants and equestrian-oriented educational opportunities, all under the same roof as the competition ring.
Skeptics who were taken aback when they first heard Omaha won its bid for the finals are being converted to fans as they visit the facility or talk to those who have been there. Word is getting around about the venue—now in demand as the possible site for other major horse events in the future—and also about the city itself.
Omaha’s Old Market, with its eclectic mix of restaurants and intriguing boutiques, is a lively destination within walking distance of the venue. Hotels offering rooms in a variety of price ranges are nearby and a number of attractions, including a world-class zoo and outstanding museums, are also on hand.
More than the Show
Asked how he thinks competitors from outside the U.S. will feel about Omaha, Andrew replied, “You look at riders from around the world and … obviously a lot of them have been to Wellington [Florida]. When they come to the U.S. to show, they come to L.A., they come to Miami, they come to Las Vegas, but Omaha, Nebraska? First, they ask, ‘Where is that?’ and then they say, ‘I know Omaha steaks,’ and that’s about all.”
He believes, however, that they’ll be fans of the city once they explore it a bit. “The downtown is one of the coolest in the country,” he said. “I think it’s the best venue to have, especially an indoor show in the country let alone maybe the world.”
He expects a lot of competition, especially among U.S. riders, in trying to make the cut for FEI World Cup™ Finals Omaha 2017. “If you look at the rotation, you have the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games and the Pan American Games. On the off year, the World Cup™ Finals is the championship. I think having it back in the States and being that year, it’s going to be something high on everybody’s [list of] goals. That’s our goal. I have a new horse, Brindis Bogibo, and he jumped well there.”
Canada’s Karen Pavicic, the dressage rider who won both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Freestyle at the test event, also found Omaha to her liking. “The restaurants are fantastic, the people are friendly and it’s a really great atmosphere.”
Another Canadian dressage rider, Jacquie Brooks, had even more reasons to like the city. “We’ve met the most amazing people who have put us up and taken care of us,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly, you can walk everywhere. And a vet here saved my dog [who had colic surgery]. I am really indebted to Omaha.”
There’s a reason that the state tourism slogan is, “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.”
While dressage is still a developing sport in the area, organizers hope that once people have a chance to see the world’s best in the discipline for the first time, they will appreciate it and perhaps even want to take part in it.
Plans call for dressage riders not qualified for the final to take part in a freestyle demonstration, accompanied by an orchestra or appropriate ensembles, perhaps even with a dance component in the mix, to show another side of the discipline.
A Unique Experience
The Omaha Equestrian Foundation, which presents the annual International Omaha competition and the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping and the FEI World Cup™ Dressage Finals Omaha 2017, has a goal of bringing in more people to understand, enjoy and participate in horse sports. Everyone from VIPs to those who can’t part with the cost of a ticket will have a chance to be part of the experience.
Admission to CenturyLink is free, and those who come can take advantage of the vendors, an educational exposition in 20,000 square feet of space that includes a gallery of breeds, an arena for demonstrations and dining in a restaurant by the warm-up area, where they can watch riders preparing to enter the ring and then see the competition on video boards.
Vendors are delighted that the backstage area will stay open late after the competitoin so those who have been watching will have a chance to shop and party before they head home or back to their hotels.
“When you go to a baseball or football game, you go to the tailgate party,” said Lisa Roskens, chairman of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation who came up with the idea of bidding for the Cup and has shepherded the effort in conjunction with Mike West, the foundation’s CEO. “It’s for any of your friends, anyone who wants to come and be a part of this special fun event. That’s our philosophy. We want to have a tailgate party at our event, only our tailgate party will actually have tails because we’ll have the horses in the warm-up area,” Lisa chuckled.
There will be a bit more than 13,000 seats in the arena for the finals, and if the show isn’t sold out, anyone who comes in for free and decides to buy a ticket after they’ve seen what’s happening on the premises can get one at the box office.
Sales are underway for ticket packages. The price for all of the jumping sessions, which includes three FEI jumping final sessions, one practice session and the national grand prix jumping session, is $255 for seats in the arena’s lower bowl and $180 for seats in the upper bowl. The all-session dressage package, which includes two FEI sessions, two practice sessions and one dressage alternative session, is $190 for the lower bowl and $135 for the upper bowl.
Single-session tickets, which will go on sale after Jan. 1, 2017, are $65 for lower-bowl seats and $50 for upper-bowl seats for the first and second sessions of the jumping finals and for the dressage Grand Prix. For the third jumping session and the dressage Freestyle, the tickets are $85 (lower bowl) and $65 (upper bowl). National jumping grand prix and dressage alternative program tickets are $50 (lower bowl) and $35 (upper bowl). The practice sessions are $20 for the lower bowl and $15 for the upper bowl.
“We’re really trying to make it a unique experience at all levels. Our goal is to grow the sport in our region, and we can’t grow it by making the experience exclusive. We can only grow it by giving people a broad opportunity to come and see what’s going on,” Lisa noted.
“But on the flip side, for those who know the event, we want them to have an exclusive experience if they want to have it. Our goal is to cover all ends of the spectrum.”
The VIPs will be taken care of with seats in the first few rows, tiered tables at one end of the arena or custom-built suites for larger groups at the other end. “We feel one of the things often lacking in venues is an opportunity to have a unique VIP experience,” Lisa said.
VIPs also will have access from the morning into the evening to a lounge in the building where there will be live music and food and drink are available (“We don’t like people to leave Omaha hungry,” said Lisa). It’s designed as a location where they can relax or get together for the run of the show with friends who may be seated in VIP rows some distance from them in the arena.
VIP tickets for all the dressage sessions are $1,200 and $1,500 for all the jumping sessions. VIP tables and suites are available for additional cost.
The Omaha event will mark the 11th time FEI World Cup™ finals have been held in the U.S. since the indoor competitions began in 1979.
For more on the finals, accommodations and tickets, go to www.omahaworldcup2017.com or call (402) 930-3079.
Seen enough horses for awhile? There are plenty of options for those seeking a change of pace or something to do between competitions.
The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium offers endless fascination and it’s a great place to take the kids. Check out the African grasslands habitat and the country’s largest indoor rainforest or just watch the sharks swim by.
Horse-drawn carriage tours are a good way to get an overview of the always-hopping Old Market, where those who already have eaten at the city’s steak houses can switch gears to find a variety of international restaurants and clubby bars. It’s also the place to go for nightlife. Crafts, jewelry and clothing shopping opportunities abound in the Market as well.
Lauritzen Gardens is a botanical attraction that has a large arboretum that will be the go-to in early spring before the outdoor gardens are in bloom.
Museums include the Joslyn (the wildly colorful Chihuly glass is a can’t miss) and the Durham in the former Union Train Station (you’ll enjoy the talking train-passenger statues in the waiting room).
While annual activities such as the Sweet Corn Festival and the Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival take place later in the year, World Cup™ organizers are planning other special entertainment opportunities that take advantage of the area’s abundant cultural assets.
This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.