March 29, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

When the world’s elite horses (and riders) arrive in Omaha, an entourage of police and first responders—including mounted patrol—will escort them to the location of the Longines FEI World Cup. The international championship for show jumping and dressage begins March 29 and continues through April 2 at the CenturyLink Center.

European competitors depart from Amsterdam, Netherlands, aboard a chartered Boeing 777 cargo plane that takes more than nine hours to reach Omaha.

The flight requires horses to be loaded into specialized containers called “jet stalls,” which resemble an enclosed stable stall. Jet stalls can hold up to three horses. The charter flight includes a “pro groom,” nine shipper grooms, and a veterinarian—all provided by the company overseeing the transportation, the Dutta Corporation.

Horses at this elite level are well-seasoned air travelers, making the journey seem almost routine, says J. Tim Dutta, the founder and owner of the international horse logistics company.

“Horses are just like human beings,” Dutta says. “Some get jittery, some read the rosary, some like some gin and tonic, some go to sleep before the plane leaves the gate, and the rest are worried about life two days afterward. Everybody’s an individual, and we are ready for each and every situation.”

Any concerns or worries, he says, are the things that can’t be entirely controlled or predicted—such as poor weather conditions or a horse getting sick during transportation.

“You’ve got a couple hundred million dollars worth of horses on the plane, so that’s serious business,” he says. “You want everything to go smooth, and there’s always challenges. But for a guy like me who’s been at it for 28 years, and has done quite a few of them, it’s just another day at the office.”

Once the horses arrive in Omaha, they will be quarantined at the CenturyLink Center for up to three days while the USDA checks for diseases and other potential health concerns.

Veterinarian Mike Black—based out of his Nebraska Equine Veterinary Clinic just outside of Blair—says any adverse effects of a long journey would be the same for horses whether they traveled by trailer or airplane. It’s not unusual for humans and animals to struggle through temporarily weakened immune systems due to stress and long periods of confinement with other travelers.

“Whenever the animal is put under stress, it will compromise some of their ability to respond to infections,” Black says. “And a lot of horses are carriers of viruses and things. So, as they’re around other horses that they’re not normally around, then things can be spread.”

When the competition opens March 29, folks without a ticket will have an opportunity to get a closer look at all the horse-and-rider teams. The practice area will be free and open to all.

Mike West, CEO of Omaha Equestrian Foundation, hopes to create a fan-friendly and carnival-like atmosphere.

The World Cup is the first international championship of its kind to be hosted in Omaha, he says. Sure, there have been championship boxing bouts in the city. And the NCAA crowns the champions of college baseball in Omaha. But never before will so many world champions prove themselves on local grounds.

Back in 1950, when the College World Series first came to Omaha, nobody could have expected how the “Gateway to the West” would become a Midwestern sports mecca.

“They didn’t know about swim trials; they didn’t know about NCAA basketball or wrestling or volleyball and all the great events that we have now,” says West, a veteran Omaha sports-marketing professional. He previously held management positions with the Lancers, Cox Classic Golf Tournament, and Creighton’s athletics department.

The Omaha Equestrian Foundation is not only dedicated to putting on a good show. West and his colleagues are committed to continuing the city’s relationship with the FEI, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (aka, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports), the governing body for the sports of show jumping and dressage.

“We have an opportunity, but we also have an obligation as an organizer to do a good job. Because if we do a good job, we don’t know what it will lead to, but we know it will lead to something [positive],” he says.

A successful 2017 World Cup in Omaha could improve chances of the World Cup returning, along with its estimated economic impact of $50 million.

“We have to be better than anybody—by far—at listening and delivering on our promise to the fans of this sport,” West says. “And if we do, I think we’ll develop a reputation that if you want to be treated like a fan [of sports], go to Omaha, Nebraska.”

Visit omahaworldcup2017.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.