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Equestrian World Cup draws more than just horse lovers to Omaha's CenturyLink Center

Equestrian World Cup draws more than just horse lovers to Omaha's CenturyLink Center

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When most people think of celebrities, they think Kardashian, Clooney and Jolie.

But Omaha’s Cristy Drake has a different list: Ward, Kraut and Gal.

Those are names of riders competing in an international equestrian competition in Omaha this week, and for people like Drake those athletes are the stars that inspire rubbernecking.

“It’s like going to Hollywood,” said Drake, an equestrian fan who has tickets for all sessions of the 2017 World Cup. Events run through Sunday at the CenturyLink Center.

World Cup organizers say the competition has drawn fans from across the United States and overseas. But the event’s planners also expect that plenty of folks from Omaha — a city known for supporting big sporting events — will show up to check out horses in action in two Olympic equestrian categories: show jumping and dressage, also known as “horse ballet.”

The World Cup has another lure organizers are counting on: free events and activities at the CenturyLink’s convention center, where you can watch horses warm up, attend a kids education expo and browse more than 140 vendors.

Looking for a $30,000 horse treadmill? You can see, and purchase, one at the convention center.

But the competition is definitely the main attraction, and Omaha’s bid for the World Cup was boosted by its record hosting major sporting events such as the College World Series and Omahans’ reputation for rallying around the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials and other athletic contests.

Drake is a rider herself, and she owns a horse. She’s familiar with equestrian sports, and she can even tell you which riders have the best records and who are the favorites for winning a Cup championship. She wants to catch every moment.

“I took a vacation from work,” she said.

The event is also drawing local people who aren’t necessarily up on equestrian sports. They just like high-level competition and appreciate athletes at the top of their sport, whether it’s swimming, volleyball or now, riding.

Organizers say watching the World Cup is like experiencing expert figure skating, skiing and gymnastics: The action, movement and drama draw you in, even if you’re a newcomer.

“If you’re going to get introduced to the sport, why not at the highest level,” said Beth Metcalf of Omaha, who was at the CenturyLink on Thursday to check out the vendors and was planning to attend the competition this week.

Her friend Renee Kealey of Omaha attended the CWS last year, has hit the U.S. Swim Trials and plans to attend a dressage event during the World Cup.

“It’s just wonderful to have all this talent that comes to Omaha,” said Kealey.

The vendors and kids expo also are drawing local people to the CenturyLink. Mike West, CEO of the local group organizing the World Cup, said he’s pleased with turnout.

Students on field trips from Omaha, Millard and other districts swarmed the kids area Thursday to watch riding demonstrations, check out horses in a variety of breeds and experience interactive displays on horse anatomy and behavior.

If you visit the vendor area you’ll find a wide range of items and prices: a $5 stuffed unicorn toy, a $20 souvenir T-shirt, a $38 decorative horse figurine, a $70 goat-skin broad-brimmed hat, a $210 leather purse with horse designs, and framed watercolors of horses and riders ranging to $600.

You’ll also find horse and rider gear such as $1,000-plus boots, $5,000-plus saddles and, of course, the treadmill.

Jacob Watts, a salesman with the company selling the treadmill, said Thursday morning that there hadn’t been any sales yet but he was definitely getting interest from horse owners at the World Cup.

“It’s an expensive piece of equipment,” he said. “They have to think about it.”

Bertrand Ganee, a U.S.-based sales manager for French saddle company Voltaire Design, said his booth has drawn interest and sales are off to a good start. Prices for the custom-made saddles range from about $5,000 to $8,500.

“It’s important for our image to be associated with the World Cup,” he said.

Jeri Samuel, a merchandiser for apparel and footwear maker Ariat, said sales have been split about 50-50 between local people and buyers from out of town.

“We weren’t sure what to expect,” she said. “But it’s been good.”

Omaha World-Herald: Inspired Living

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The 2017 World Cup Finals, Wednesday through Sunday at the CenturyLink Center, will draw equestrian fans from around the country and overseas for an event that could be described as the Super Bowl of horses. Riders and animals compete in two Olympic equestrian categories.

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