A Grass-Roots EffortMar 24, 2017 04:45PM ● By Anne Walsh
The FEI World Cup’sTM international, star-studded cast of horses and riders match the talents of Olympic competitors. In fact, they are often Olympic winners. As these globe-trotters gather for the first time in America’s heartland, Omaha aims to honor the sport while spotlighting the city on the world’s stage.
“This is a great opportunity. Omaha has a reputation for hosting high-quality sports events, including national championships, but this is the first time we’ve held an international final,” says Mike West, chief executive officer, Omaha Equestrian Foundation (OEF). “Up to 70 percent of the attendees are from outside the city, representing 20 different countries and all 50 states.”
Omaha prevailed over bids from London, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands with a winning combination of vision and facilities, he says. Since 2012, the OEF annually has hosted the “International Omaha” show jumping event—a regional competition with some international involvement—at the CenturyLink Center. Organizers are building on this foundation of expertise to make the 2017 FEI World CupTM a truly unique event, combining elements of the European equestrian fan experience with mainstream American sports.
“It’s striking how beautiful this event is, and it’s a blast to watch. It has three sports components: precision, athleticism, and teamwork. In basketball, for example, you have precise, 3-point shooters; passing and rebounding athleticism, and skilled players united to win,” West says. “In equestrian events, the horse is the athlete and the rider brings the teamwork in a very precise sport, and they don’t even speak the same language.”
The CenturyLink Center’s layout is a perfect venue. “If you could make a building for the World Cup, the one in this town is that building,” he says. With the dressage and show jumping competitions unfolding in the arena, the adjoining convention center boasts a unique tailgating experience, with dining, shopping, exhibits and—of course—horses, all rolled into one.
The Baird Holm Tailgate Lounge and Restaurant borders the warm-up ring, so as attendees drink and dine, they get a birds-eye view of the equine athletes preparing for competition. The Boutique Shopping Village offers something for everyone, from tack and equestrian products to jewelry, clothes, and luxury gift items from companies such as Longines, a Swiss watch manufacturer and FEI World CupTM sponsor.
The family-friendly Triple Crown Horse Discovery Zone also includes numerous free exhibits, a staple of the educational outreach of previous International Omaha events, says Jackie Vinci, OEF education coordinator.
“Horses are foreign to city dwellers; you can’t easily interact with them unless it’s a mounted patrolman or carriage ride downtown. Some people are even afraid because they’re such large animals,” she says. “We want to provide hands-on education and greater opportunities to meet horses on a personal level.”
The displays include:
- Runza Gallery of Breeds—features a variety of horses, from a pony to a Percheron (draft horse).
- Blacksmith Shop of Omaha—Elmo Diaz uses an anvil and bellows to show how horseshoes were made.
- “Wheel Wright”—Art Push demonstrates equipment that makes carriage wheels.
- Durham Museum—offers a variety of exhibits, including Omaha’s founders and Plains Indians history. The World Cup’s international visitors, many from Europe, are very interested in the Wild West’s heritage.
- Henry Doorly Zoo—traces the ancestry of zebras as predecessors of horses.
- U.S. Pony Club—provides hands-on exhibits, including braiding a tail or sitting on a saddle, as well as a display showing the sizes of horse shoes, and games. In the demo area, horses and riders offer live presentations of the pas de deux and quadrille, long-lining and show grooming.
- Equimania! sponsored by Kiewit—from Guelph, Ontario, is a large, comprehensive exhibit covering all aspects of horse physiology, including the digestive system and dental, as well as the evolution, nutrition, and behaviors of the horse.
- Western, English, and Dressage exhibits and Tack Room—includes riding styles, clothing, and stable gear.
- 160-Seat Mutual of Omaha Theater—shows a variety of videos, including the evolution of horses, their use in the cavalry, military, farming, and fire-fighting, and their use today. The theater also features short and award-winning films from the Equus Film Festival in NYC.
OEF is offering schools in Nebraska and Iowa free field trips and transportation to CenturyLink, complete with exhibit tour guides and activity books.
“Watching the growth and seeing the popularity and interest is exciting. We’ve gone from four schools with 200 students attending the first International Omaha event, to nearly 40 schools this year with thousands of students,” Vinci says. “We hope to continue the World Cup’s momentum and bring some of these educational elements to schools, clubs or other events throughout the year.”
West also hopes to build on the success of the FEI World CupTM.
“We want to educate the nation and the world about our city. Big events are always relevant here—they don’t get lost like they can in larger cities. We want the Omaha community to wrap around this, celebrate, be part of the success and have fun,” he says. “The World Cup will show that Omaha knows how to throw a party!”