March 3, 2017 by

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Omaha’s connection to horses has a long local history that stretches back even before the city was founded in the mid-1800s; the city’s namesake Native American tribe was reportedly the first documented equestrian culture in the Northern Plains.

So it seems fitting that in and around Omaha today, a thriving equestrian culture provides plentiful resources for casual or serious horse enthusiasts and riders. A broad spectrum of lessons, trails, leasing, boarding, shows, and competitions are readily available. A handful of state parks within an hour’s driving distance provide extensive equestrian trails and some even offer camping facilities for horse owners or guided trail riding. The equestrian community is also supported by a host of goods and services providers, from tack and apparel shops, to farriers and large-animal veterinarians.

Lessons, Activities, and Services

The Omaha area offers a wide array of lessons for beginners and advanced students alike, in English and Western riding, jumping, dressage, and more. Many of these facilities also offer boarding, grooming, and other related services, offer open access trails, or provide corrals and practice rings where riders can independently develop their horsemanship skills. Some even offer party space for special events. A sampling of these local equestrian facilities, which present various services through membership or per visit, includes:    

  • American Legacy Complex (Omaha)
  • Elkhorn Equestrian Center (Elkhorn)
  • The Farm at Butterflat Creek (Bennington)
  • Hampton Ridge Equestrian Center (Elkhorn)
  • Infinity Farm (Springfield)
  • Ponca Hills Farm (Omaha)
  • Phoenix Equestrian Center (Bellevue)
  • Prairie Gem Stables (Omaha)
  • Quail Run Horse Centre (Elkhorn)
  • The Riding Center (Omaha)
  • Seefus Riding Stable (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
  • Winnail Stable (Waterloo)

Horse Shows

Dozens of horse shows in multiple classes are held in the area year-round, a tradition that goes back decades. For example, a resource for the Nebraska hunter/jumper schooling show circuit—NebraskaHorseShows.com—had already posted 10 unrated events for 2017 at the beginning of the year. By February, Urban Equine Events (UrbanEquineEvents.com), a local equestrian production company, had already listed four major events taking place in 2017 alone. National sources HorseShowCentral.com and USEF.org already list more than 20 shows scheduled for the area throughout 2017, with more to come.

“Every single weekend there’s a show if you want one,” Omaha Equestrian Foundation board member and volunteer Karen Ensminger says. Her two daughters have ridden competitively, and although she jokes about competing in the “rusty stirrup” circuit for middle-aged riders, Ensminger emphasizes that local riders have abundant options for A- and B-rated shows along with non-rated shows “for everyone.” In fact, local shows “attract riders from the entire region,” she says. 

Horse-themed Activities

Along with a significant presence at the FEI World CupTM Finals, local organizations are also embracing the festivities by offering external horse-themed community events such as:

  • Equus Film Festival (March 30 – April 1)

Two matinees each day will be featured at Marcus Midtown Cinema in conjunction with the FEI World CupTM Finals. The festival empowers storytellers to show the rich history and diverse tapestry of horses in human culture through a selection of feature films, documentaries, shorts, music videos, commercials, training educational materials, art and literature.   

  • Ak-Sar-Ben: A Good Place to Race (now through May 28)

This exhibit, hosted by the Durham Museum, presents a glimpse of one of the nation’s premiere racing tracks of yesteryear through both photographs and objects from the museum’s collection.

Equestrian Service Organizations

In addition to offering a multitude of activities for recreational and competitive riders, the equestrian community also includes groups with working horses that serve the community, like:

  • The Omaha Police Mounted Patrol Unit

The horse patrol started in 1989 as a part-time unit on a trial basis and was so successful in law enforcement, special events, and public relations that it was quickly elevated to a full-time unit. Today, a dedicated team of officers and horses comprise the unit, which is housed in a state-of-the-art equine facility in downtown Omaha.

  • Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA)

HETRA is a nonprofit organization offering therapeutic riding programs for adults and children with disabilities. The organization has 19 specially trained therapy horses and is currently the only PATH Premier Accredited Therapeutic Riding Center in the state.

  • Take Flight Farms

Take Flight is a nonprofit organization which incorporates horses into therapeutic and learning programs. Take Flight is a member of Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), an association that is dedicated to improving the mental health of individuals, families, and groups by setting the standard of excellence in equine-assisted psychotherapy.

With the wealth of equine industries, groups, events and shows in the area, it may take some research along with a little trial-and-error for budding equestrians to find their particular fit, Ensminger says. She adds that her contemporaries are generally happy to answer questions and provide information, and that the diverse local “horse people” community is, above all, welcoming.

“There’s a wide gamut,” she says. “But they love to talk about their sport, their passion and their obsession.”