The dust has settled and the equestrian world has left Omaha, but this week, the organizers are still letting the experience sink in.
Omaha was a question mark—a big one—when it was granted the contract to host the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup Finals. The state of Nebraska is not known for its high concentration of show jumping or dressage industry, in fact, it’s not known as a hub of equestrian sport at all, really.
When Lisa Roskens and her Omaha Equestrian Foundation put in their application to host the WCF was a long-shot bid at best, and when the FEI granted their bid in 2014, Omaha became the first new city in a decade to host the World Cup Finals. While the area has a multi-discipline equestrian history, at the time it was located 1,000 miles from the nearest international competition.
The events of the past week permanently changed that, and they did so with an exclamation point. It’s so easy, almost expected, for a new organizing committee to experience some hiccups or missteps their first time out of the gate. And while Omaha had several dress rehearsals in its annual International Omaha CSI during the years leading up to this April, holding the biggest international event of a non-Olympic year was an entirely different beast.
The Omaha Equestrian Foundation’s board of directors is to be commended for a thoroughly flawless week. From front of house presentation at the Century Link Center, to back of house accommodation for the competitors, their horses and teams, every review came back five stars. The Century Link Center saw 55,000 spectators come through its doors during the four days of competition. A vendor village with activities for children and regular autograph sessions by the world’s biggest riders went hand in hand with the schedule, making it easy to fill the days before the afternoon and evening competitions.
Mclain Ward’s victory was sweet, yes, but in this setting, it shone. Each phase of the competition ran smoothly; the footprint of the event was accommodating to the horses, all teams working the event were given meals and (media priority) the wifi was lightning fast.
“What occurred here this week is a shining example of what a championship event should be, and anyone who was here would have thought you would have been doing this forever,” commented FEI Director of Jumping John Roche.
That success makes the enormity of what Roskens and her team pulled off all the more astounding, and the enormity of what they aim to do next all the more impressive.
“In researching what would make a great World Cup Finals, we wanted to research what we could do to have this event have a lasting effect,” said Roskens.
During a Sunday press conference when Roskens put forward the proposal to develop Omaha into a future hub of international equestrian sport, she was taken seriously. She and her team presented a complete legacy plan with the overarching goal of developing young riders with a clear path from ground rails to grand prix. Roskens wants to create opportunities for high performance athletes in the Midwest. Her immediate plan includes a 2017-2018 In it to Win it 1.45, Speed Jumping Series that will partner with five regional competitions this year and culminate at International Omaha 2018, with the goal to produce a nationally televised equestrian competition series that stands on its own.
“It will give us an indoor series that builds to something exciting in Omaha, and gives people a reason to come back,” she explained. “ It is about trying to create an opportunity for all of our athletes who are capable of jumping 1.40m to do so in an exciting environment.”
A commitment to dressage and developing dressage riders, to further expanding the International Omaha CDI, and to putting forward the Felica Rose Dressage Scholarship to support a regional dressage rider in competing at the Omaha CDI were all put forward as well.
“To be sitting here with a tangible legacy program, before the end of the competition, is pretty fantastic,” commented USEF director of sport Will O’Connell.
Earlier, Roskens had commented that one person doesn’t do anything worthwhile on their own. She was right, and her entire team is to be commended for what they achieved. But when Mclain Ward leant down to wrap an arm around her just after he accepted the World Cup Final trophy, she was given a moment in the spotlight of her own. She started with a goal of presenting Omaha as a laudable host for the World Cup Finals, and with that mountain now behind her; one gets the feeling that she is just getting started.