Omaha, Nebraska–New Destination in Top Horse Sport?

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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Omaha, Nebraska being named along with London and Den Bosch in the Netherlands as a bidder for the 2017 World Cup Finals of dressage and jumping may have surprised many in the horse world but the city that typifies American Heartland values of down to earth common sense and friendliness has pulled off bigger and more improbable sports extravaganzas.

Although it has yet to put on an international dressage event, the proposed venue for the annual global championships of the two Olympic disciplines was so successful in staging the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Trials in 2008 that they were held there again in 2012 and will be for the 2016 Games. Not bad for a city that’s 1,650 mles (2,650km) from the powerhouse centers in Southern California or South Florida in a glamor sport the U.S. dominates.

No wonder the organizers looking to host the World Cups in a city that is home to Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest individuals, and five Fortune 500 companies, are confident it can pull off the World Cups that would bring about 50 of the world’s elite dressage and jumper riders and horses combinations to Omaha.

“We want to have it because we want to bring it to an area where the sport should be stronger,” Lisa Roskens, a spokesperson for the orgainzers told dressage-news.com. “This is a target rich environment–lots of people who have the financial ability to support the sport. It’s a place where the sport should be stronger… there are a lot of good reasons for the sport to flourish in this region.

“The only reason it hasn’t is because we haven’t had the events to showcase the sport.”

And history would appear to support their case.

Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada was unheard of in horse sports until Ron Southern created the world renowned event that his family continues to where it now has such stature as to be one of three competitions in the global Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Or Wellington, Florida that was a strawberry patch on Everglades swampland before entrepreneurial homebuilders found a way to attract equestrians searching for a warm winter layover and has now become the center of global horse sports January through March.

Las Vegas by 2017 would also have hosted the World Cups of dressage and jumping on four ocassions, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2015. Las Vegas has a round the clock glamor few other cities can match.

The chances of Omaha where more than 1.2 million residents are within a 50-mile (80-km) radius of the city being awarded the World Cups are slim.

London, especially the Grenwich area where the arena that was formerly named O2 was one of the 2012 Olympic venues and sharing the aura of immensely successful equestrian events in nearby Greewich Park, is considered a favorite while ‘s-Hertogensbosch has hosted the Wold Cups so many times it is almost second nature.

Omaha would definitely be different.

(Full disclosure requires this correspondent to report extensive media business dealings in Omaha and Nebraska several years ago.)

The World Cup of dressage has only ever been held in western United States though jumping was held in Tampa, Florida.

World Cups in the Midwest could ignite support for dressage, particularly, in a section of the United States where it is little known though has a unique place in the development of the sport in America.

Lowell Boomer, a dressage devotee, owned a print shop in nearby Lincoln, the Nebraska state capitol. The U.S. Dressage Federation was squeezed into his business offices before it grew big enough to move to Lexington, Kentucky to join other national organizations with professional staffs in grand offices.

An Omaha bid is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to organization.

Lloyd Landkamer, who ran the dressage operation for the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010, organizes dozens of shows every year throughout the United States including the Global Dressage Festival of seven CDIs in Wellington, has been named to oversee dressage.

John McQueen, who includes Spruce Meadows among the shows he has helped manage for more than two decades, has been named competition manager. Among those events has been the International staged in Omaha for the past two years.

“Our goal is to use the International in Omaha to embark on strong show jumping,” Lisa said. “After two years I knew we could deliver on that.

“We have a good dressage community here. Show jumping is easier to explain. But we have plans to develop dressage over the next couple of years. We are starting in first grade and moving along.”

The costs of hosting the World Cups, Lis said, would not be near as expensive as other events, such as the swim trials where two Olympic-size pools had to be built.

The arena where thw Woeld Cups would be held seats about 8,000 people and the main uses are for Creighton University basketball and University of Nebraska-Omaha ice hockey as well as music concerts. Rodeos are also staged.

While the budget for the World Cups is not to be taken lightly, she said, “we feel confident if we have the opportunity we will find the support.”

The organizers have forseen issues such as import of dozens of horses from outside the United States.

Discussions have been held with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a quarantine zone at the airport that could be extended to the show center five minutes away.

As for ticket sales, the goal would be to keep prices low–ticket prices for most seat have been $25 (€18) in the past two years of the International jumping competition.< "We hope the FEI will see the value of bringing an iconic event to a place where we're about potential for the sport," said Lisa Roskens who grew up in Pony Club and appreciates learning horsemastership. "We're a very diverse economy. Unemployment never got above six per cent. We are a very diverse, strong economy of agriculture, business, insurance and a lot of telemarketing--we don't have an accent. "We're still very conservative, stodgy MidWesterners. We're risk adverse with not a lot of debt. We're among the top five or six cities of millionaires per capita. "We have a lot of people who make a lot of money, but we don't have a Maseratti dealership. It's our farmer mentality."