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The International

equine expo

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“I love Omaha and I love horses and I want the two to meet.”


On April 20 and 21 The International, an Olympic-caliber horse jumping competition, will lure to the CenturyLink Center riders and their mounts from five continents.


“The original idea behind The International was a simple one,” said Lisa Roskens. “I love Omaha and I love horses and I want the two to meet.”

Roskens, the board chair and C.E.O. of the Omaha-based Burlington Capital Group, is a co-founder and board chair of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, the non-profit that created The International.

Daytime admission to the world-class event is free and features a host of family offerings. Tickets are required only for evening competitions.

Separated only by a safety barrier, visitors will be able to get an up-close and personal look into all the activity going on within the 240 stalls housing the most noble of beasts.

The Equine Expo will feature EquiMania, a fully interactive series of educational stations and displays especially designed so that very young children through teenagers can learn about everything from horse anatomy, care and safety to opportunities to explore a career in the equine field. Other Equine Expo offerings include a petting zoo and a mini-jumping course for kids.

Entertainment and more thrills will be showcased with Brule, the acclaimed Native American musical act, and the deathdefying antics of the trick-riding All American Cowgirl Chicks. Also making appearances will be Harry De Leyer the owner of the horse that inspired the book “Eighty-Dollar Champion: The Horse that Inspired a Nation,” and Smoke, the Afghani donkey brought to America to work with at-risk kids at Omaha’s non-profit Take Flight Farms. A second Omaha horsey non-profit, The Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA), will also participate.

The International will also host over 1,200 area children in school field trips while gaggles of Girl and Boy Scouts will earn horsemanship badges in the days leading up to the competition.

A salute to the long history of horses in the military promises plenty of patriotic moments. It was in the pastures of the United Sates Army Calvary School that the modern sport of horse jumping itself was codified. Van Ketzler and Colonel John Russell will be special guests of The International. Ketzler, who trained cavalrymen up to the historic program’s demise in World War II, is the retired C.E.O. of Dehner Boots, the company famed for being President Ronald Reagan’s personal boot cobbler. Russell is the legendary figure of the U.S. Olympics teams and beyond.

“The unique nature and talents of the horse itself offer so many great lessons for young people,” Roskens said. “Unlike almost any other sport, there is a strong responsibility here for care-giving. With horses you have a living, breathing teammate, but it’s one who can’t tell you in words what its needs might be. And think of the trust involved in the relationship. You want to climb on its back, but that’s what a predator does when it attacks. You’re asking an animal to suspend its basic survival instincts. Instead of fear, you have to get the horse to think ‘Fun! Let’s go for a ride!’”

There will be plenty of competitive jumps during the day, but the headliner evening events are Friday’s Mutual of Omaha Bank Speed Derby, where riders and their steads will race against the clock leading up to Saturday’s premier event, the even more challenging course of The International Grand Prix presented by Omaha Steaks.

Roskens’ “simple idea” has grown to have profound implications in the international riding community. The Omaha event represents a rare indoor-venue opportunity for riders who dream of leaping their way into the Olympics.

Further shining the spotlight on Omaha is the fact that The International will be televised to the 41 million subscribers of Omaha-based RFD-TV, the cable station whose tagline is “Rural America’s Most Important Network.” Grabbing the attention of the equestrian world for a weekend is one thing, but The International aims to be much more than a one-trick pony.

“The unique nature and talents of the horse itself
offer so many great lessons for young people.”


“This is only the beginning for us,” explained Susan Runnels, The International’s executive director. “This will be the foundation for our goal of making a winning bid to host the World Equestrian Games in Omaha.” The World Equestrian Games are comprised of the world championships for eight equestrian sports. The competition is held every four years, two years prior to the Olympic Games. “There’s never been a horse jumping competition of this level in the mid-west, let alone in Omaha,” she continued, “so we’ll be putting the city on the map on so many different levels.”

Acting as Competition Manager will be John McQueen, the 30-year equine veteran who owns Queenie Productions, the hunter/jumper horse show management company in St. Louis, Missouri.

“It was Winston Churchill who once said ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,’” McQueen said in a telephone interview, “but it would be an even better message if it was changed to ‘the inside of a child.’ Exposing a small child to the wonders of this magnificent animal is a rewarding experience. You know you’ve succeeded the minute a child puts their hand on a horse. When they connect like that you see that sense of awe in their faces…you’ve got ‘em.”

Roskens, who owns 13 horses herself, knows exactly what McQueen is talking about.

“The magic of the horse is not only an American love affair, but one that is found all throughout history, in every corner of the world and in every culture,” she said. “Look to the Greek Centaur as just one example. It wasn’t half man and half… uh, rabbit. It was half man and half horse. Kings, queens and knights road horses. They have the mystical power of elevating you, both figuratively and literally, in making you, like them, larger than life. Horses speak to something very, very basic in our psyches.”

-end- metroMAGAZINE




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