This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.
Everyone involved in the equestrian world shares a passion—for the sport, for the horses, and for the beauty and nobility of the presentation. Lisa Roskens, founder of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, counted on that enthusiasm to make the very first Omaha International a success. The number of local and regional volunteers who worked the event exceeded expectations back in 2012. But once the Federation Equestre Internationale awarded Omaha the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals, Roskens knew organizers would have to overcome an obvious hurdle; one created by geography.
“This is the World Series of our sport, truly a global and national event,” says Roskens. “While most people involved in equestrian sports understand and follow the World CupTM, they don’t really understand Omaha.”
True to form, whenever confronted with a challenge, Roskens gathered her friends and colleagues in the OEF to brainstorm. How could they reach out to those who only know Omaha as a city locked in the middle of “flyover country?”
“We realized we needed a much more personalized outreach approach for those people to truly understand what they can expect (from Omaha) and to give them reasons to get excited about coming here,” she says. “So it wasn’t just mass mailers going out to generate excitement.”
And so the Omaha 2017 Ambassadors program began. It quickly evolved into more than a platform to tout the positives of the Midlands. The scope of the effort, extending beyond neighboring states, also generated a groundswell of support for the FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017 and for equestrian sports in general.
OEF board member Karen Ensminger and riding instructor Sybil Greene head the Ambassadors program. With the help of an office assistant and a few interns, they created an impressive information pipeline—one person at a time.
“Our goal was to get at least one person in all 50 states who would take information from us and then spread the word,” explains Greene. “We figured they would become a contact point for others in their area who wanted to know more about the World CupTM and Omaha in particular.”
The women started gathering Ambassadors by calling personal friends in the horse community. Having grown up in Maryland, Greene knows riders from the Chesapeake Bay area up through New Jersey.
Ensminger, a native New Yorker who has worked in Los Angeles and Boston, had no trouble making up her friends’ minds for them. “I called them up and said, ‘Look, this is what’s happening here in Omaha and I’m sure you want to get involved. So I’m going to sign you up as an Ambassador,’” she says as she laughs. The new recruits then received a packet of information from Omaha about the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals. “I told them to put the flyers in their barns, tack stores, feed stores, their places of work, grocery stores, coffee shops, everywhere. And then, of course, I invited them to come.”
In addition to the invitation, Ambassadors received a navy blue ball cap emblazoned with the event’s colorful horse logo and “Omaha 2017 Ambassador” stitched in white underneath, an FEI World CupTM Finals pin, vouchers for a non-sold-out event, and discounted tickets.
To reach the massive number of riders they don’t know, Greene harnessed the power of social media. She created an Ambassadors Facebook page, where people could sign up electronically. She joined Facebook groups that had anything to do with horses—farms, stables, barns, riding clubs, horse dealers—and asked for people to volunteer as Ambassadors. She re-posted articles about the FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017 and sent out media blasts, paying special attention to the ones listing things to do in Omaha.
“It’s been an extremely low financial output on our part,” says Ensminger.
Though striving for a modest goal of one contact per state, the committee managed to sign up multiple Ambassadors in several states, including 25 to 30 in horse-heavy states like Texas, California, and Montana. Many Ambassadors have taken up the invitation to attend the FEI World CupTM Finals. Some are even volunteering their services in whatever capacity needed during the events.
“The baseball people know about Omaha because of the College World Series, the swimming people because of the Olympic Swim Trials,” says Greene. “And now the horse world knows about us. We’re building on our reputation as a place for elite sports.”
Will the Ambassadors program, created especially for the Midwest’s first-ever international equestrian showdown, continue? “If participants see it as a valuable and fun experience, then we will consider expanding upon it,” says Roskens.
Judging from the number of selfies taken with Omaha ’17 merchandise and posted on social media, keeping the program might just be a plan.