Giving The Underdog A Chance: Lisa Roskens on InIt2WinIt Series & Broadening The Sport

When McLain Ward won the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final  at the Century Link Center in Omaha, Nebraska, he took the time to acknowledge the village of people who helped him throughout his journey to success. In the same moment, he paid tribute to Lisa Roskens, the CEO of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, which led the initiative to bring the prestigious event to Nebraska.

The World Cup Final will always be remembered for its overwhelming successFor Roskens and her dedicated team, their efforts stem from understanding the value of an opportunity, and now they’ve taken that effort forward to create the InIt2WinIt Speed Jumping Series. The four qualifying events will take place in Chicago, Missouri, and Colorado between September 22- November 11, 2017, with the final being held on January 12, 2018 at the Century Link Center in Nebraska.

Roskens emphasizes that investing in an individual’s potential can lay the foundation for future success. In the same way that a ripple extends beyond the reach of its initial point of impact, the OEF plans to harness the momentum from the WCF to broaden the sport, starting from the ground and working its way up.

The OEF’s inaugural InIt2WinIt Speed Jumping Serieswhich plans to develop young riders and competition circuits from Omaha and beyond, derived directly from that initial momentum. In the days following the announcement, we caught up with Roskens to discuss the present and future of the sport, and how she hopes to have a hand it shaping it all.

Noelle Floyd: How did the success of the World Cup Final lead to the InIt2WinIt Speed Jumping Series?
Lisa Roskens: We bid on the World Cup Final as part of a strategic plan to grow the sport, not only in our region but also in our country. We wanted to build towards an event of that magnitude so that the attention, excitement, and energy generated could be used to build other things. In addition, we also want to create a much broader audience by changing the way the sport is presented.

You can’t have a big event and just hope for benefits to happen, so our board sat down about a year ago and said okay, in-order for the WCF to have the desired long term effect in our region, what steps should we take to perpetuate that enthusiasm?

One of the first things that came up was the need to keep high performance equestrian sport vibrant in our region, and the InIt2WinIt series is what came out of that strategic planning session.

Lisa Roskens at the World Cup Final Omaha 2017. Ph. ©Erin Gilmore for NF

NF: What was the motivation behind starting the OEF?
LR: Part of the reason why we founded the OEF in 2010 was because at the time, I was frustrated on a couple of fronts.

I was frustrated living in the Midwest because there weren’t a lot of things we could do without hitching the trailer for a full day’s drive. I also believed that our sport deserved to be more mainstream and more appreciated like it is in other parts of the world, but it looked to me like we were only presenting it to ourselves. I’ve felt that we were insular and clubby in the way we presented the sport.

When I first started, everyone said that no one will ever watch the sport except for the people that are in it. And yet, the number of friends I had that loved to come out to my farm and just watch a riding lesson made me think “okay, this is something more than friends just anticipating a glass of wine. These are people who find this sport compelling”.

We never present the sport in a way that is open, friendly, and welcoming. That was our mission in 2010, to present an event that was good for the sport, good for the riders, but really welcoming, really open, and really encouraging of others to come and attend.

I think that a lot of things are starting to move in the sport. People are starting to realize that we can actually present it to a broader audience and that it’s actually a good thing to do that.

NF: The InIt2WinIt Series offers a rider multiple opportunities to qualify for the final in Omaha. How do you believe the up and comers will benefit from that level of accessibility and opportunity?
LR: The InIt2WinIt series is a combination of research on a bunch of different sports. One of the most popular weekends in sport is the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament, because that’s when the Cinderella has a chance. The story isn’t that North Carolina won their first round games, the story is that North Carolina lost to a 15 seed team from somewhere no one has ever heard of.

Part of the reason why we didn’t make it purely a points or ranking race is because we want to give those Cinderellas an opportunity to score the upset.

The other sport that I’ve tracked, partially as a participant, is triathlon. Iron Man Hawaii is the world championship triathlon, and yet, you can win a lottery slot to compete. To be able to stand in the in gate and walk a course with people you aspire to be like is inspirational, whether you beat them or not. That’s part of what we are trying to do, foster the growth of the sport across the spectrum.

NF: How does your foundation plan to foster that growth?
LR: There are five points in our strategic plan:

1) Grow high performance sport in our region: There really isn’t anything other than the Winter circuits and some smaller regional shows, so if you can’t afford to go to those events, you kind of lose out in our area. The InIt2WinIt Series was a way to keep people engaged through the winter.

2) Develop a clearer path from ground rails to grand prix: You don’t know who the next one is going to be. There are plenty of people with passion and interest but they get lost and they end up redirecting those efforts somewhere else, and that’s not good for the sport.

We have worked to help bridge the gap between the local schooling show and the A show circuit. Our local barn, the Quail Run Horse Center, allows schooling kids to learn what it’s like to be at an A show without having to spend the money. The Urbans [Quail Run owners] will also pay the association fees for anyone moving from the schooling show to their A circuit.

Local day is another feature that we have at the International Omaha, both for jumping and for the first year, dressage. Even though the minimum height for jumpers is 1.15m, we have a .95 class that they can qualify for at the local schooling shows. We want to give those entry level kids a taste. If you wet their appetite, you don’t know where they will go, but if you never let them in the door, you minimize the chance that they’re going to aspire for more.

3) Make it easier to develop young horses in the region: We have a couple of partnerships on that front. For a horse that’s not entered, the Urbans have opened up their Wednesday ticketed arena for no cost so that you can trailer in, school, and trailer out. This allows you to give a young horse mileage in a new venue without having to pay hundreds of dollars.

4) Grow dressage in the region: We have a scholarship that specifically targets dressage in part of our effort to grow the sport, because we’re still learning more about how to help the sport. We have a scholarship for any rider in region four to come to the International Omaha in April and they will get lessons with and be able to shadow one of our CDI riders for the week. That will give them both the opportunity to learn more about their own riding, but to also just learn what it’s like from a competitor’s perspective at the higher level.

5) The educational scholarship open to anyone: This scholarship is for anyone in the region that has an opportunity to either compete or learn something at an event they can’t afford to do; a kid that qualifiers for pony finals but can’t afford to trailer, etc. We’re just leaving it very open so we can help people start to have broader experiences.

NF: And the High Performance Review?
LR: To me, it is an incredible opportunity for people in our region to be able to ask questions of and learn from the top in our sport.

Will Connell did the [high performance review] when he was chartered with making sure Great Britain had great representation at the London Olympics. They wanted to have a successful Olympics, and he started this review process in the years leading up to London and he did this on an annual basis. That’s how he came up with it and if its as successful for the participants as we envision it being, I assume it will be held annually.

NF: How will the event be formatted?
LR: The high performance review participants will spend time evaluating what works, what didn’t work, and what they need to do to be in a position for the upcoming WEG. On a parallel path, the Omaha Equestrian Foundation will have activities for the spectators coming to learn from the review participants.

While the review participants are in their private meeting, we have things arranged like tours of the Century Link Center and behind the scenes stories of the World Cup. One afternoon, there will be an audible clinic, similar to the Isabell Werth demonstration we did in Omaha, that they can watch and learn from. That evening is a dinner where every table will have one of the participants from the high performance review. People will also be able to meet them at the cocktail hour, and the next afternoon will be an interactive Q&A session panel discussions with the high performance review participants.

NF: What do you hope will become of your efforts?
LR: Our hope is that we create more riders, members of the USEF, and people to buy horse shoes and take riding lessons. That’s the whole goal.

The more we can broaden the base of interest to people who may never ride but just love the sport, the better. If they buy two or four tickets every single year, that’s two or four people closer to the 10,000 that we need for major sponsorships. Once you start getting those sponsorships it becomes less and less expensive to be a professional at the top levels and that pathway becomes clearer, but right now, even if all you do is create aficionados, you’re making progress.

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