Practical Horseman sat down with Julie Boilesen, the CEO of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation during the International Omaha to get to know her and find out what’s happening with the 2023 FEI World CupTM scheduled for April 4 through April 8. Omaha will host the FEI World CupTM for the second time, with the first being a highly successful event in 2017.
PH: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
JB: I’m Julie Boilesen, CEO of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation.
I am from a little town in central Nebraska called Ord. I grew up showing 4-H and then Quarter Horses and showed Hunt Seat and non-pro-Western Pleasure. I worked for a couple of Quarter Horse trainers and went to college when I was 25 because I thought I would be done having any fun by the time I was 25 when I made that promise to my parents. I went to Creighton University and got a degree in organizational communications and then worked for TD Ameritrade for 13 years and at AT&T as a global branding director for voice for seven years.
PH: Do you still ride? Do you have horses of your own now?
JB: I would say horses for me are a little bit like a drug. I either do it or I don’t do it. I actually have no natural talent. I have to work very hard at it to be reasonably decent. So yeah, right now I’m not riding, but I would really love to. I always said I was going to get a driving horse when I was 50, but I didn’t quite make that happen.
PH: Could you tell us the mission and the vision of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation?
JB: It’s designed with the idea that we want people to understand that Omaha has the potential to be such a great hub for sport horse. If you’re in a location where a horse operation might be very expensive based on the land values, Nebraska has lots of land that is very reasonable.
We’re a great place to fly in and out of. It’s five minutes in and out of the airport. There’s a lot of really great conveniences about being in a state like Nebraska. People are friendly. We sit on I80, a major interstate so it’s easy to get to and from places. Omaha is a great place for business, and we think it could be a great place for the equine business.
PH: Why is Omaha such a good fit for the World Cup?
JB: We show Omaha this amazing level of sport, and Omaha loves sport. There are no professional sports teams here until last year when we got Union soccer. We’re just not a big enough city for that. So consequently, Omaha loves alternative sports. Curling trials do well here. The swimming trials for the Olympics sell out here. Omaha just likes to go watch people who are the best at whatever it is do their thing.
They really loved and embraced the World Cup in 2017, and they’re anxious for it to come back.
PH: What plans for the World Cup are currently underway?
JB: Tickets went on sale during Leipzig. We went ahead and opened ticket sales here, so you can get anything through Ticket Master, including VIP and tables are all available.
Yesterday (May 5) we sent out a press release revealing our theme, which I know all World Cups don’t necessarily have a theme, so that’s been an interesting conversation. We felt like in 2017, one of the interesting things I kept hearing was that some people came to Omaha expecting to see cowboys and Indians walking down the street practically. And we’re used to that. That’s okay. We embraced it and decided to tell that story if that’s what they’re interested in.
So, we’re working with the Bluebird Cultural Initiative, and we are focusing on our hearts, our heritage, the year 1723 and what was really happening on this piece of land in that year where we’re going to host the World Cup. What was happening about 40 years after horses really made their way back to the plains? What was the advent of horse nation in tribes like the Omaha and the Winnebago and the Lakota? How did the horse change their way of life?
It is just such an opportunity to talk about horses in a different way, other than this very elevated sport. It’s about how horses were such an instrumental part of who they were in the culture. It’s not us telling the story. We’re really just interested in creating a platform for our friends at Bluebird and a lot of the area tribes to be able to tell their own story.
PH: You were not part of the World Cup the first time it was in Omaha.
JB: I was not. I was in Italy on vacation, and my parents were here. I took the job with the Omaha Equestrian Foundation in September of 2019. So, I thought I would have three rounds of the Omaha International to test things and to get my feet wet throughout the organization. But then here comes COVID. And so, I get one shot at stretching my muscles here and then jump into the big game.
PH: When Omaha was first selected to host the World Cup in 2017, was their much question about it? Did people wonder why omaha?
JB: “Oma-who” is no joke. That was a headline with “Oma-who”. I think we’re Oma-wow now. But I don’t blame them. The thing I think that was interesting that happened in ‘17 was there were horse people that were here calling friends in Florida and California saying, “I can’t believe you’re not here.” That really grew as the week progressed. And then it was nice because I’ve had a number of riders tell me that, in Paris the next year, there were a lot of people saying “You missed it when you missed Omaha.” In Paris, this is just another event of many. In Omaha, this is something special.
PH: What are you most looking forward to about the event?
JB: You can’t beat the level of sport you’re going to get to experience. We’re really excited about vaulting. This will be the first vaulting World Cup finals ever hosted in North America. They were at WEG of course, but there’s never been a World Cup final here.
Vaulting is one of those great things that attracts young people. It’s a club sport. You don’t necessarily have to own your own horse. So, when people watch a vaulter, it may seem more accessible with them as a way to get into horses and riding as young kids. This is a big gymnastics and cheer and dance town. I think if we can get those kids in, then the vaulters are going to have a great audience.
We love showing off our city. I’m very proud of Omaha. I’m very proud of this downtown area. We so often go somewhere to an event like this and we’re on the outskirts, not necessarily in the center. Here you’re right in the best part of town for hotels and restaurants. And then this is an awesome facility (CHI Health Center).
PH: What kind of challenges are you facing?
JB: I think there’s still a little bit of uncertainty with COVID. There are people chomping at the bit and ready to buy tickets and ready to commit they’re coming. And I think there’ll be some other people that are a little more conservative about jumping back into travel. So, I think it’ll just have to evolve over the next few months.
I honestly do think we’re going to see a lot of people because they heard ‘17 was great. We’re going to see everybody back from ’17, and we’re going to see all the people that got told they missed it by not coming.
And I think you’re going to see people in the city and the region that are really excited to attend.
PH: How can people get more information and buy tickets?
JB: Ticketmaster.com is where you can buy tickets. Omahaequestrian.org is where you can find out more information about the World Cup. You can also get volunteer information there. We will be looking for many volunteers. Last time we had 500 volunteers from all 50 states and five countries. Also, pretty quickly here we’ll be launching the official FEI site.
PH: Anything else you want to add?
JB: We just want everybody to come. It’s going to be a great time.