This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.
Conventional wisdom says that the East Coast, particularly Florida, is where the premier dressage communities and competitions are in the United States, making this a more obvious choice for the FEI World CupTM Finals.
But a closer look reveals that the dressage community here in Nebraska is energetic and growing. That is not surprising, since the United States Dressage Federation was founded by legendary horseman Lowell Boomer in Lincoln, Nebraska, more than 40 years ago.
“It’s a small but growing group of dedicated people who value education and are dedicated to the sport,” says Missy Fladland, 45.
Fladland is a regional and national dressage champion who has lived in Omaha since 1981. She owns and operates La Riata Ranch in Griswold, Iowa, with her husband, Kip, and she says she’s excited about the FEI World CupTM Finals being held in Omaha.
“The question is ‘Why not Omaha?’” she says. “It’s a great community, a great place to live. We’d love to share that with the world.”
Shan Lawton, 64, is someone who looked at Omaha and saw an opportunity. A trainer and competitor who has been involved in the sport for over 30 years, Lawton is originally from Boston. New England, he says, was once an important dressage area. It still has great trainers and interest, but shifting economics and Florida’s rise as a dressage community have resulted in New England becoming less important.
After a good client relocated to Omaha, Lawton decided to check the city out for himself.
“When she moved, I came out here to assess, really, what the dressage community was like here,” he says. “And it seemed to me that there was a desire for more training here. I met a number of people who were interested in dressage and in becoming better dressage riders.”
What Lawton has found has given him cause for optimism.
“My experience has been that there are a fair number of really quite nice horses here,” he says. “There are a number of people who are pretty serious about riding. It’s not the biggest discipline in the area by far, but there’s a definite interest, and I’d say earnest interest, in dressage.
“I think people really, really do care about the sport here [and] just have not had really good access to good training.”
Lisa Roskens primarily rides jumping horses and was not as familiar with Omaha’s dressage community before efforts got underway to bring the FEI World CupTM Finals here. But the more she saw of it, the more impressed she became.
“I’ve gotten to know the dressage community quite a bit more than I had in the past, and there’s really a great, very strong grass roots … community in this part of the country,” she says. It has a mix of high-end competitors and enthusiastic people who compete at lower levels. “I was genuinely very surprised and pleased with how strong it is.”
Gracia Huenefeld, 24, a teacher and trainer out of Hickman, Nebraska, has competed in dressage for almost eight years, since taking lessons in 4-H Club. Top-level clinicians and trainers are essential to growing the sport, she says, and the Nebraska dressage community is growing and will continue to grow.
“Obviously, with the World Cup coming to Omaha that will raise awareness of the sport [here] in the Midwest,” she says. “As a trainer [here] in the Midwest, that’s very exciting for us.”
The FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017, Roskens hopes, will inspire more people to participate, both in general and at a higher level. In addition, the board will discuss a five-point strategic plan to grow both jumping and dressage. Nebraska’s large amount of land, particularly grassland, and agricultural infrastructure gives it an opportunity to be a major equestrian hub one day.
“Our goal is to continue to grow and develop the sport through education, through access to the higher levels of the sport and to continue to build that community,” she says.
Lawton is also optimistic that theFEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017 will have a positive effect on the sport locally.
“I’m hoping that it will stimulate interest, maybe in some people who have done other types of riding,” he says. “I think it will also be good for the people who are already doing dressage in the area to see … what the [world-class] standard looks like.
“It’s a coup for Omaha.”