Tag Archives: horse

Living with 
Livestock in Omaha

June 19, 2017 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hungry for a taste of the simple life? You don’t have to sacrifice the convenient luxuries of living in the Omaha metro.

Nick Batter, a lawyer who raises livestock in the Ponca Hills area, knows how to get the best of both worlds.

From left: Nick Batter and Jill Stigge

Batter owns five acres near Hummel Park, just outside of the city limits. He says he can’t imagine any other place where a young professional can raise a pig or shoot a shotgun in his or her front yard, and then drive 10 minutes to have sushi or see a Broadway show.

Urban Logistical Hassles

After first determining whether barnyard animals are allowed in your neighborhood, Batter says there are some challenges to raising livestock in the Omaha metro.

“There’s not many people to buy livestock from,” he says. He has to go on road trips to get animals. He must be selective about breeds due to space limitations: He raises a more docile breed of pig and a shorter-legged sheep (it runs slower). He doesn’t have space to overwinter animals either.

Batter’s livestock selection changes throughout the year to accommodate his space. He gets baby animals in spring and slaughters them after the first frost. By the end of April, he already had sheep, lambs, goats, rabbits, laying hens, and was expecting four pigs to arrive soon.

Limited access to feed stores presents another logistical challenge in the Omaha metro,  he says. For a variety of reasons (including his professional schedule), he has to buy feed on Sundays, and only one store is open when he’s available—and it’s in Irvington.

Nevertheless, he says the perks of animal husbandry outweigh any hassle.

Perks of Residential Livestock

Batter says his animals mostly “live off the land,” and their diet is only supplemented by feed. His rabbits and sheep eat grass. “Goats eat everything green,” he says.

He pens the pigs under mulberry, walnut, and oak trees. So, the pigs eat plenty of berries, nuts, and acorns. Batter finishes fattening them on black walnuts, a “very American walnut,” he says.

Batter doesn’t need to mow the lawn. The sheep do it. His two border collies make sure the sheep don’t leave the property.

He says the animal pens are near his home due to space limitations. His window faces the pens, so if predators are in the area—and his animals are distressed—he knows quickly.

Batter eats fresh eggs and chicken. “Keep them warm, keep them watered, keep them fed,” he says of the chickens. “They really do the rest.” He gets two to three dozen eggs a day. “They’re producing eggs like crazy,” Batter says. “I’m not even feeding them.”

The chickens eat bugs and grass, which they prefer. Batter enjoys sharing eggs. “Sharing eggs is expressive,” he says. “Time goes into it. It’s a way to share your personal time with somebody.”

Batter practices ethical husbandry and reaps the rewards, both in food and in spirit. “I’m not divorcing myself from the process [of processing animals],” Batter says. He knows his animals have a good life. “Every day of their lives is terrific except for the last day,” Batter says, adding that it pains him to waste meat: “You realize it came from a life.” And in the case of his backyard farm, a life that he nurtured and raised.”

Do It Yourself

Before investing in urban livestock, would-be farmers must research the zoning of their neighborhood. Circumstances are different all across the Omaha metro. To be safe, the University of Nebraska’s Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office encourages homeowners to check with neighborhood associations or county planning and zoning offices.

“There are so many different situations, SIDs, acreages, in city limits, out of city limits,” says Monte Stauffer, an educator with the county extension office. “The person who can make that decision is at the county courthouse; you just have to give them an address.”

For advice on raising chickens, Stauffer suggests reaching out to Brett Kreifels, an extension assistant with a master’s degree in poultry production. Meanwhile, Stauffer (an animal sciences and animal husbandry expert) can answer any questions about pigs, calves, horses, sheep, and goats.

Kreifels and Stauffer are available by phone at 402-444-7804. A receptionist at the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office directs queries to the relevant experts on staff.

“You can do it for several reasons: to try to generate additional income, to produce your own food, or provide an educational opportunity to young people—giving them some chores to do, some responsibility that they may not get them in trouble,” Stauffer says.

Visit extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy for more information.

Eggs, sausages, and bacon harvested from the farm.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

The Omaha Tribe and Horses

March 3, 2017 by
Photography by Nebraska State Historical Society (provided)

The city of Omaha is named after the Umonhon people. The state of Nebraska is also an Umonhon word, NiBlaSka, or “Land of the Flat Waters.”

Neither this city nor this state would be named as it is without horses. The Umonhon people originally lived in Ohio, migrating to Nebraska in the 1750s after horses were introduced to the tribe from trade networks. The Umonhon controlled extensive trade networks through their oversight of the Missouri River, or NiShude. The network extended as far north as Lake Winnipeg in Canada and as far south as St. Louis. The shonge or “horse” was acquired at this time from trade relationships, and by 1775, the main Umonhon village was located at TonwonTonga or “Big Village,” near current day Dakota County, Nebraska.

The Umonhon, or Omaha, are part of the Dhegiha linguistic group. Dhegiha means “people of this land.” Umonhon translates to “people who went upstream,” relating to the separation of the Umonhon and the other cognate tribes at the headwaters of the Mississippi River hundreds of years ago. Umonhon women were agriculturalists, breeding strains of maize, beans, squash, quinoa, and melons. They also gathered other foods and medicines that grew naturally in their environment and were herbalists. Men hunted large game, such as elk and buffalo. Buffalo was especially important as it was a staple food source and provided primary provisions for blankets, robes, moccasins, fuel, shelter, and utensils. The Umonhon had a complex kinship system based on the clanship, known as the Hu’thuga.

The Umonhon had a historical impact on the state of Nebraska that is evident in present day. The Umonhon were the first equestrian culture of the northern plains as the evolving economy of the horse and fur trade was occurring. The adoption of the horse into Umonhon society forever changed Umonhon culture.

Umonhon quickly developed a strong relationship with horses. Horses were highly prized and used as a form of currency. Men, women, and children could possess horses equally. Horses were seen as the highest form of a gift one could offer.  Some marriage ceremonies consisted of women being led around the village on horseback followed by her husband’s gifts to her family.

Umonhon people loved their horses. Men frequently painted their horses for spiritual reasons or to illustrate rank. Horses would also be decorated with ribbons, and their tails would be painted or braided. Women embroidered the cruppers of their horses for decoration and spiritual significance.

Horses were used to assist with labor, often in the form of a travois, a historical A frame structure that was used to drag loads over land. Prior to the introduction of the horse, travois were pulled by dogs. The horse travois were often used by women in times of long distance travel. Parflesche, or rawhide bags are utilized to store materials, were used as saddlebags on horses.

Horse culture became an integral part of Umonhon life. They changed the trade economy and horses and Umonhon people maintained a strong spiritual and social connection that continues to exist today. In January 2015, the Omaha Tribe hosted “Spiritual Ride: Prayers for Generations to Come.” This ceremony consisted of a 21-mile horse ride in freezing conditions. The purpose was to pray and bring attention to the state of Nebraska suing the Omaha Tribe over reservation boundaries. In the end, the Supreme Court sided unanimously with the Omaha Tribe in preservation of their boundary.

Nebraska was granted statehood on March 1, 1867. In March 2017, Omaha Magazine published a collection of horse-related articles that appear in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping and FEI World Cup Dressage Finals held in Omaha. This was the first of those articles.The other articles in this series are:

Into the Wild

Horses Pave the Way in Nebraska Territory

Horses Run Early Statehood

Horses in Nebraska Today

Umonhon Chief Prairie Chicken on Horseback, circa 1898.

Kirk Vaughn-Robinson

December 18, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After a lifetime in the performing arts that culminated in 12 years on the road with the blockbuster Broadway touring production of The Phantom of the Opera in the roles of Lefevre and the Fire Chief, Kirk Vaughn-Robinson had come to learn more than a little bit about stagecraft.

But few scenes were as amateurishly staged as the one that played out in his hotel room almost every night in the latter years of his musical theatre career.

“I had this wobbly collapsible table I bought for $20 at Walgreens, a rickety foldable chair, a simple clamp light, and a lazy susan,” says the Muncie, Ind., native who later grew up on a horse farm in Florida. “It was just all so totally absurd.”

Outside of his Broadway gig, the triple threat singer-actor-dancer had performed with the Cincinnati Opera, Dayton Opera, Sorg & Whitewater Opera companies, and the Cincinnati Pops, all after attending the famed American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria.

But Kirk Vaughn-Robinson was now learning a new artform. Carting his curious ensemble of new “props” from town to town, he was teaching himself to become a sculptor.

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“It’s only fitting that I have established my first studio here in Council Bluffs,” Vaughn-Robinson says from the surprisingly spacious 1,100-square-foot space in the Harvester Artspace Lofts that has been his live/work home for over a year, “because my sculpting career began when Phantom was here in 2008. I executed my first work here.”

Things moved fast, he says, once he mustered the courage to show his work and the owner of the very first gallery he visited signed the novice sculptor on the spot.

Now venturing increasingly into abstract castings, Vaughn-Robinson is perhaps best known for his exquisitely crafted figurative bronzes of men, horses, mermen and, yes, even dorsal fin-sporting “merhorses.”

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Exhibiting a visual language of sensual romanticism, he renders classic ideals of beauty in timeless archetypes that speak to themes that are at once natural and organic, theatrical, and dramatic.

Vaughn-Robinson continues performing in a more localized, scaled-down slate of opera and musical appearances. He recently played the role of Pish-Tush in the Opera Omaha production of The Mikado and was nominated for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for his work in The Sound of Music at The Rose.

Vaughn-Robinson won’t rule out the idea of returning to a big touring production, but for now is happy to sculpt away in Council Bluffs as his gallery representation and commission business grows.

His two worlds—the stage and the studio—offer a stark contrast in workplace experiences.

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“Just as being a part of a huge touring company is a decidedly social affair,” he explains, “sculpting is instead very solitary. It is a meditative time for me. My most common experience in all those hotel rooms over the years was that I would be lost in my work and, thinking that maybe a half hour had gone by, I’d suddenly realize that dawn was breaking. It is a spiritual experience for me, and I like to think that this is reflected in my bronzes.”

Dan Urban

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even while pursuing a degree in physics at the University of San Diego, Omaha native Dan Urban always knew he would build a career around his love of horses.

So after graduating college in 2006, he moved back to Nebraska to do just that. Urban serves as a trainer, instructor, and co-owner at Quail Run Horse Centre. His parents, Jim and Patrice, opened the facility near 220th and West Maple Road more than 25 years ago, and it’s where Urban nurtured his passion for equestrian sports, including show jumping.

The sport will be in the spotlight this spring when Omaha hosts The International, an equestrian jumping competition. Now in its second year, the event takes place April 12-13 at the CenturyLink Center Omaha downtown. Organizers are expecting about 200 horses, 135 to 150 professional and amateur riders, and thousands of spectators.

Urban, 29, will be among the local riders. He’s excited about getting the chance to compete at home instead of having to travel to Kansas City, Des Moines, and other cities.25 January 2013- Dan Urban is photographed at Quail Run for Omaha Magazine.

A graduate of Skutt Catholic High School, Urban has been riding horses since he was 4. He loves equestrian sports because of the thrill of competition and the unique partnership between horse and rider.

“Once you get horses in your blood,” he says, “it’s hard to get it out.”

Urban travels all over the country to compete in show jumping, sometimes as much as two weeks out of the month. In May 2012, he and his horse, Astro Boy, won the Grand Prix title at the Midstates Horse Show in Mason City, Iowa.

There’s a great deal of work involved before hitting the competition ring. To build stamina and strength and bring horses to peak fitness and readiness, they undergo various technical exercises, jumps, and other techniques.

“Just like any athlete, you want to make sure they’re in top fitness,” he says.

“Once you get horses in your blood, it’s hard to get it out.”

At Quail Run, Urban spends a good chunk of his day riding and keeping horses in shape. The farm offers acres of trails as well as indoor and outdoor riding arenas. He also gives lessons to riders of all ages and skill levels. Teaching is one of his favorite parts of his work.

In addition to competing at The International, Urban, along with many of his family members, will help with event setup, promotional activities, and other aspects. Bringing high-level equestrian events like the International to Omaha, he says, helps increase awareness and generates interest in horse sports to a wider audience.

25 January 2013- Dan Urban is photographed at Quail Run for Omaha Magazine.

Omahan Lisa Roskens, The International’s chairman of the board, says Urban’s horsemanship and character make him a wonderful representative of the sport.

“For a professional in a sport that takes so much guts, he is very quiet and thoughtful, not brash or full of bravado,” Roskens says. “His down-to-earth approach, combined with a good sense of humor and good horsemanship, make him very effective. He works hard, he’s kind and compassionate to his clients and horses, and really deserves a shot at the spotlight.”

The International Omaha

Photography by The International Omaha

Beautiful, elegant horses competing in The International Omaha horse jumping competition will thrill audiences at the CenturyLink Center Omaha downtown on April 12 and 13.

“It’s not only a beautiful sport but a highly athletic sport,” says Susan Runnels, executive director for The International. The show is administered by the not-for-profit Omaha Equestrian Foundation. “It takes eight years for the rider to develop a relationship with the horse.”

As for the competition itself, “Riders have to jump 13 jumps in 80 seconds,” she adds. “They use English saddles and don’t have horns to hold onto. Sometimes, they are thrown off.”

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What is equitation? A quadrille? What does dressage mean? Before heading for the competition, visit InternationalOmaha.com. A glossary of terms unique to the horse world is listed under Show Jumping 101. Also on the website is a map of the course’s design. No two courses are ever the same. Jumps are numbered and have flags to indicate directions: A red flag is right, a white flag is left.

There are different types of jumps. For example, the Oxer has two verticals that are close together, making the jump wider. A Combination denotes two or three jumps in a row, with no more than two strides between each.

But there is more to The International than watching horses jump. It’s a family and fun event. During the daytime Equine Expo when admission is free, visitors can experience what it’s like to be around the 1,200-pound animals. They can also learn about eight different breeds of horses.

“Kids love to get close to the horses,” Runnels says. “They can jump over the mini-jump course just like a horse. Families will enjoy visiting all the interactive displays.”

Face painting, equine toys, clothes, jewelry, and a living historical display of cavalry days will be part of the fun. Daytime competition with riders and horses begins each day at 9 a.m.

The International’s goal is to “foster and develop international-caliber athletes with the equestrian sport,” according to Runnels. Competitors come from many countries for the almost two-hour shows. Last year’s winner out of 97 competitors was from Germany.

Who will enjoy The International? “Everybody. From 3 years old to 80 years old,” Runnels says. “It’s such a phenomenal sport.”

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Getting the most out of The International:

  • Stop at the Greeter’s Table. Look for a volunteer and ask questions. “There will be a lot of volunteers to answer questions,” Runnels says. “They will wearing the same colored tops and khakis.”
  • Pick up a program. Everything you want to know about where to go and what to do—and terms that are used in the horse world—are in the program.
  • See horses warm up in the warm-up area.
  • Be on time for the opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. Special entertainment on both nights will feature the Strategic Command’s joint color guard and the Omaha Police Department’s mounted patrol. Singer Marcello Guzzo and the comic act of Tommie Turvey will also perform. “It’s amazing what Turvey does with his horse,” Runnels says. The Omaha Symphony will play on Saturday night.

Stay for the Victory Gallop at the end. “It’s really cool,” Runnels says.