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World Class / Horse People

The International Omaha Horse Show & Quail Run Horse Centre


Most visitors to the International Omaha Horse Show won’t find themselves in the saddle anytime soon. They’re unlikely to start adding words like “dressage” (pronounced properly, of course, to rhyme with “massage”), “equitation”, “farrier” or “pinny” to their future everyday conversations. Few of them will become “horse people”. But they’re bound to leave the arena with a newfound appreciation for the sport of show jumping, and a greater understanding in these horseless carriage days of the unique relationship between human and horse.


Equine and Human Athletes

Show jumping is fundamentally challenging, and not just for the equine athlete. For instance, riders can view the course in advance, but it’s only during the actual competition that they guide the horse through it for the first time. Horse and rider must jump 10 to 16 obstacles within a limited time; an average course is 13 jumps in 75 seconds. Some obstacles are simple vertical structures but others are configurations of up to three structures, “oxers” with multiple rails, or even spreads of water. The horse may have to clear five vertical feet. “Faults” are assessed in competition scoring if the horse halts at or bypasses an obstacle, for knockdowns, and if one or more hooves land in water.

And of course, there’s this: the horse is a living creature with a mind of its own.

All things considered, it takes a high level of athleticism for a rider to maintain control of a 1,200-pound animal and a relationship of mutual trust that creates a wordless connection between man and beast. Not to mention the added pressure to be simultaneously fast, precise and safe.

“Where do you really have a sport that’s like this, with an animal and a rider? You know the horse isn’t doing all the work; the rider has to communicate with the animal,” International Omaha Horse Show Executive Director Susan Runnels said. “It’s a very cool dynamic.”


International Omaha Horse Show

Called The International for short, the world-class indoor horse jumping competition debuted in 2012 and is managed by a local nonprofit group, the Omaha Equestrian Foundation. Not only did The International draw competitors from around the globe in its first year, it also brought in nearly 10,000 spectators of all ages for an array of equestrian-related educational activities and even a little horseplay.

The International may be a freestanding entity, but its creation was actually inspired by a larger objective, Runnels explained.

“The main goal was to get the World Cup championship to come to Omaha, which is equivalent to like the Olympic Swim Trials,” Runnels said. “We had to prove to everybody in the equestrian world that we could put on a show. And we rocked it last year!”

Once the second-year show comes to a successful end, Omaha Equestrian Foundation is eligible to submit a proposal to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports to host the FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final, which they hope to bring to Omaha in two or three years, Runnels said. This annual international competition involves 14 leagues around the globe and contenders from 132 qualifying competitions.


What’s New in 2013

Runnels emphasized that, regardless of the outcome of the bid for the World Cup, The International was developed to become an independent, ongoing annual event. It will take place for the second time at the CenturyLink Center on Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13.

“There’s nothing like it,” Runnels said. “It’s a very family-friendly, fun event for all ages. We had a lot of great response from last year and we’re excited to come back.”

Admission is free for all ages during daytime competitions and the equine expo, which begin at 9 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday. An array of informational exhibits includes a historical cavalry display, a gallery of breeds and service animals, and ponies from a national traveling club. Visitors can try their hand at horse-portrait in a guided lesson, snap photos of each other in stand-in props, make some horsey crafts, and even race through a mini jumping course on foot (adults may be disappointed to discover that this one is just for the kids). Plus, various vendors will be on hand selling food and drink along with horse-themed souvenirs and merchandise.

Guides will be positioned throughout the event to offer basic education and answer questions about all things equestrian from the terminology of horse culture to the care and grooming of the animals to basic rules of the various jumping competitions.
“People can get up and close to the horses and understand what’s going on in the arena,” Runnels said.


CenturyLink Transformation

During The International, the CenturyLink Center will house more than 200 stalls for competitors’ and exhibitors’ horses. Workers will construct 100-by-170-foot and 100-by-140-foot warm-up arenas and a 250-by-180-foot competition ring complete with a mix of sand and synthetic surface material (or as the insiders call it, “footing”).

Competitors from all over the world participate, Runnels said, but The International attracts a significant percentage of local and regional riders. Spectators can see some of the best in the world ride in the featured competitions, the Speed Derby on Friday and the Grand Prix on Saturday. Both events begin at 7 p.m. and require tickets, available through a link on the event website www.internationalomaha.com or directly through Ticketmaster.

Omaha Equestrian Foundation Mission

Besides presenting a world-class competition, The International also fulfills several important objectives of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation. The International has brought unprecedented regional attention to equestrian sports and stimulated horse-centered businesses from boarding stables to equipment vendors, Runnels said. Local equestrians have had the rare opportunity to serve as volunteers and share their expertise with the larger community. And the group provides tickets to local youth and family organizations, even coordinating sponsorships for field trips, so young people who have never been in the presence of horses can experience the human/horse connection firsthand.

“We do like to outreach and educate the public,” Runnels said. “There are kids who would never (otherwise) experience this...Not coming from the horse show industry, I am a huge believer that there can be an instantaneous connection between a human and a horse. I’ve heard about it and seen this too many times.”




Patrice Urban discovered the world of horses when she took a college class from a cute fellow student and instructor named Jim, who dreamed owning a horse farm. Today, she and Jim and their three sons own and operate Quail Run Horse Centre, and Patrice has become a “horse person for life.”

“Horse people are horse people; they get into this for life,” Patrice Urban likes to say.

Sure, Urban is a hard-core horse person now. Her livelihood, her husband and sons’ careers, her favorite pastimes, her very life revolves around horses as co-owner of Quail Run Horse Centre along with her husband, Jim. But she didn’t exactly grow up as a champion rider. It was love, and not the love of horses, that brought her into the herd.

“My first riding experience was a P.E. class as Creighton University when I was a senior. Jim happened to be teaching it and then we started dating,” Urban said. “His dad was the master of foxhounds for the North Hills Hunt, so we were always with the horses and the horse community and the people. I’m actually an R.N., so I knew nothing about any of this. But I knew that if I didn’t jump into this full-force, we wouldn’t see each other. And he wanted to start a horse farm, so that’s where we were.”

Riding Along

Jim Urban, an accomplished rider from a young age, began to fulfill his lifelong dream soon after the couple graduated together from college. In 1982, the Urbans rented a small barn at Ponca Hills Farm to start the Northern Hills Riding Academy, a venture which quickly began to outgrow its limited quarters. Soon after starting the riding academy, the young couple married, and within a few years they started a family as well. By 1987, they had toddler sons Mike and Dan in tow, with son Tom on the way, and Quail Run Horse Centre was born.

Approaching three decades later, the now-grown Urban brothers are all involved in the family business and Quail Run Horse Centre has matured to become a full-fledged equestrian center covering an expanse of 250 acres in Elkhorn. The operation includes indoor and outdoor arenas, boarding facilities, and training and riding space. Services range from basic riding lessons for the amateur (beginning at age 5) to highly individualized, advanced training for show jumpers and hunters. Although some of the riders trailer their horses to the facility for training or practice sessions, about two dozen horses are boarded on site along with a fleet of seven or eight school horses. The well-being of the animals is paramount, Urban explained, so boarding services go beyond food and shelter.  

“Most horses here get ridden five or six days per week. They don’t get jumped every day, but they do get out and do get exercised,” she said. “They get worked, which is healthier for the horses. We have trails all the way to the river, railroad tracks, some jumps for fun competition and practice.”


Not Just Horsing Around

The three Urban brothers, who grew up racing their bikes through the barns and exploring the grounds of their parents’ horse farm—but also helped out with the hard work of horse care and learned the serious business of horse showing—have each trotted along different career paths in the horse world. Although middle son Dan earned a degree in physics from University of San Diego, he chose to return to Nebraska and train horses alongside his father and two other experienced staff trainers, Danee Risler and Kelly Parisi. “Dan always said he’d come back, and he did,” Urban said, adding that her son integrates physics principles into his training methods. Youngest son Tom earned a business degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha “and now he runs Quail Run,” with his mother, who has also chosen to focus on the business management side of things. Eldest son Mike “didn’t like showing much, so he’s now into horse show management,” Urban said.


Jumping the Next Obstacle

And it’s the younger generation of Urbans who are taking Quail Run Horse Centre to the next level.

“The three boys decided a year ago that they wanted to start a horse show venue here. We said ‘okay’ and they put in some capital, and now we’re building show rings. We’ll have five shows this year, so we’ll be busy,” Urban said. 

By becoming an U.S. Equestrian Team-rated horse show venue, Urban said, the family is hoping to reach a greater goal of helping to turn Omaha into a new, central destination for the horse show circuit.

“There are schooling shows in Nebraska, but no rated horse shows. We travel everywhere,” Urban said. “The closest are in Des Moines and Kansas City. Other than the International, there’s nothing here that we can compete in.”  


Gaining Their Footing

With their shared goal of bringing the attention of the larger equestrian community to Omaha, Quail Run Horse Centre wholeheartedly supports The International, a second-year, major horse show that takes place in Omaha this month. Urban explained that Quail Run collaborates with the event at multiple levels. For instance, a host of pre-event marketing photo and video shoots and media interviews were held at the Quail Run facility. Son Mike has a key role in managing the logistics of the CenturyLink Center set-up, and the other family members are helping with the riding or business portions of the show. Plus, Quail Run is boarding some of the competitors’ horses and providing riding and practice space for others. And after the show, the footing (material used on the floor of the ring) will get transferred to the Quail Run show for the new venue’s upcoming local shows, maybe even bringing some of The International’s success along with it.

We’re planning on getting big and making this regional, hopefully. My kids know what they’re doing and they know how to build things; it’s good I have three boys. It takes a big party of us to get it all done,” Urban said. “To everyone else it looks pretty chaotic, but to horse people, it’s good.”

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