Tag Archives: Mike West

The Horses Are Back!

March 24, 2018 by
Photography by contributed

The International Omaha indoor jumping and dressage competition continues its ascent in the horse sports world, drawing the fastest horses and riders to Omaha from qualifying contests in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Denver.

The InIt2WinIt Speed Jumping Series is the brainchild of Lisa Roskens, chairman of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation. Similar to speed competitions held in California during the early ’90s, she says, it features challenging turns and offers riders more options for successfully navigating the course in the fastest possible time.

Following recent qualifying rounds in the four major cities, the InIt2WinIt series culminates with 30 riders vying in a nationally televised, $100,000 championship at the 2018 International Omaha, April 12-15 at the CenturyLink Center.

The innovative event fits perfectly with the Omaha Equestrian Foundation’s mission to expand the sport-horse industry throughout the Midwest, with Omaha anchoring international-caliber equestrian competitions that provide educational and economic development opportunities.

“Omaha is a natural location to help grow the equestrian industry. It’s in the heart of the Midwest’s agricultural infrastructure, is easy to get to and is surrounded by pastureland,” Roskens says. “As traditional agriculture becomes more mechanized, expanding the equestrian industry and the jobs it provides can help augment it.” 

InIt2WinIt is joined by another first-time event: the Dressage Team Challenge. Dressage (rhymes with “massage”) is the ballet of equine competitions, with horse and rider moving as one through intricate movements and patterns.

The unique event brings a team approach to dressage. It features eight groups of three riders who qualified at high-level U.S. horse shows, primarily in the East, to win the chance to compete in the $45,000 final. Top-level, professional riders partner with junior, young amateurs and para riders across the age spectrum.

InIt2WinIt and the Dressage Team Challenge are innovative additions that will build International Omaha’s fan base in the Midwest and beyond, says Mike West, the Omaha Equestrian Foundation’s chief executive officer. They precede the regional competition’s mainstay and finale: the $130,000 Grand Prix, a breathtaking jumping event entering its sixth year.

“We thought of these concepts, then we went out and got the interest,” West says. “We are creating a fan experience you don’t get anywhere else in the Midwest.”

When most people attend a sporting event, he explains, it’s part of a larger happening that includes tailgating or other pre- and post-game activities. West says International Omaha mirrors how the sport is presented in larger European and U.S. coastal cities. Highlights include the Boutique Shopping Village with more than 100 vendors and the Tailgate Lounge, where fans can eat and drink—while watching horses and riders warm up—then party to live music after the event.

International Omaha also is offering free daytime competitions in the CenturyLink Center’s arena for up-and-coming amateur and junior riders; a free Horse Discovery Zone with interactive and educational displays; and clinics hosted by Olympic gold medalist Hubertus Schmidt (dressage) and legendary rider, trainer, and clinician George Morris (jumping).

“These equestrian events are exciting, fun, beautiful, and easily appreciated,” West says. “We’re building something really special.”

Visit internationalomaha.com for more information. Learn more about a top international competitor with long-term ties to Omaha equestrian competitions here: https://omahamagazine.com/articles/christian-heineking/.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Frequent Flyers

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.

A Grass-Roots Effort

March 24, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

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

The FEI World Cup’sTM international, star-studded cast of horses and riders match the talents of Olympic competitors. In fact, they are often Olympic winners. As these globe-trotters gather for the first time in America’s heartland, Omaha aims to honor the sport while spotlighting the city on the world’s stage.

Mike West, CEO
Omaha Equestrian Foundation

“This is a great opportunity. Omaha has a reputation for hosting high-quality sports events, including national championships, but this is the first time we’ve held an international final,” says Mike West, chief executive officer, Omaha Equestrian Foundation (OEF). “Up to 70 percent of the attendees are from outside the city, representing 20 different countries and all 50 states.”

Omaha prevailed over bids from London, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands with a winning combination of vision and facilities, he says. Since 2012, the OEF annually has hosted the “International Omaha” show jumping event—a regional competition with some international involvement—at the CenturyLink Center. Organizers are building on this foundation of expertise to make the 2017 FEI World CupTM a truly unique event, combining elements of the European equestrian fan experience with mainstream American sports.

“It’s striking how beautiful this event is, and it’s a blast to watch. It has three sports components: precision, athleticism, and teamwork. In basketball, for example, you have precise, 3-point shooters; passing and rebounding athleticism, and skilled players united to win,” West says. “In equestrian events, the horse is the athlete and the rider brings the teamwork in a very precise sport, and they don’t even speak the same language.”

The CenturyLink Center’s layout is a perfect venue. “If you could make a building for the World Cup, the one in this town is that building,” he says. With the dressage and show jumping competitions unfolding in the arena, the adjoining convention center boasts a unique tailgating experience, with dining, shopping, exhibits and—of course—horses, all rolled into one.

The Baird Holm Tailgate Lounge and Restaurant borders the warm-up ring, so as attendees drink and dine, they get a birds-eye view of the equine athletes preparing for competition. The Boutique Shopping Village offers something for everyone, from tack and equestrian products to jewelry, clothes, and luxury gift items from companies such as Longines, a Swiss watch manufacturer and FEI World CupTM sponsor.

Jackie Vinci, Education Coordinator
Omaha Equestrian Foundation

The family-friendly Triple Crown Horse Discovery Zone also includes numerous free exhibits, a staple of the educational outreach of previous International Omaha events, says Jackie Vinci, OEF education coordinator.

“Horses are foreign to city dwellers; you can’t easily interact with them unless it’s a mounted patrolman or carriage ride downtown. Some people are even afraid because they’re such large animals,” she says. “We want to provide hands-on education and greater opportunities to meet horses on a personal level.”

The displays include:

  • Runza Gallery of Breeds—features a variety of horses, from a pony to a Percheron (draft horse).
  • Blacksmith Shop of Omaha—Elmo Diaz uses an anvil and bellows to show how horseshoes were made.
  • “Wheel Wright”—Art Push demonstrates equipment that makes carriage wheels.
  • Durham Museum—offers a variety of exhibits, including Omaha’s founders and Plains Indians history. The World Cup’s international visitors, many from Europe, are very interested in the Wild West’s heritage.
  • Henry Doorly Zoo—traces the ancestry of zebras as predecessors of horses.
  • U.S. Pony Club—provides hands-on exhibits, including braiding a tail or sitting on a saddle, as well as a display showing the sizes of horse shoes, and games. In the demo area, horses and riders offer live presentations of the pas de deux and quadrille, long-lining and show grooming.
  • Equimania! sponsored by Kiewit—from Guelph, Ontario, is a large, comprehensive exhibit covering all aspects of horse physiology, including the digestive system and dental, as well as the evolution, nutrition, and behaviors of the horse.
  • Western, English, and Dressage exhibits and Tack Room—includes riding styles, clothing, and stable gear.
  • 160-Seat Mutual of Omaha Theater—shows a variety of videos, including the evolution of horses, their use in the cavalry,  military, farming, and fire-fighting, and their use today. The theater also features short and award-winning films from the Equus Film Festival in NYC.

OEF is offering schools in Nebraska and Iowa free field trips and transportation to CenturyLink, complete with exhibit tour guides and activity books.

“Watching the growth and seeing the popularity and interest is exciting. We’ve gone from four schools with 200 students attending the first International Omaha event, to nearly 40 schools this year with thousands of students,” Vinci says. “We hope to continue the World Cup’s momentum and bring some of these educational elements to schools, clubs or other events throughout the year.”

West also hopes to build on the success of the FEI World CupTM.

“We want to educate the nation and the world about our city. Big events are always relevant here—they don’t get lost like they can in larger cities. We want the Omaha community to wrap around this, celebrate, be part of the success and have fun,” he says. “The World Cup will show that Omaha knows how to throw a party!”