The success of the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials at Omaha's main public arena helped inspire the staging of this weekend's equestrian event, The International.
"I thought, 'If we can put a swimming pool in here, we can surely fill the arena with dirt and put a couple of hundred horses in here,'" said Lisa Yanney Roskens, the Omaha businesswoman who is the event's founder.
The 2008 Swim Trials made such a splash with swimmers and attendees that Omaha was awarded the Trials again this summer. Roskens hopes people will embrace the world-class horse competition as well.
Show-jumping events and exhibits will take place all day Friday and Saturday at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, with opening ceremonies at 7 each night. Elite-rider events occur in the evenings, when the biggest crowds are expected.
Lisa spoke in the stable area Friday after dismounting from her 8-year-old Argentine gelding, Independiente, nicknamed "Julio." The pair will jump in daytime competitions, and she had just run him through an arena practice.
"He is very independent, and he's talented and confident," Roskens said. "But his ridability needs some work. As the jumps get bigger, you have to be able to place them just right or you crash, and that takes away the confidence."
As if to emphasize the international nature of The International, she also will ride a 13-year-old German horse, Lucy Lectric III. (The rules of competition are laid out by Fédération Equestre Internationale, based in France.)
A lot of jumping will take place this weekend, but Roskens said the event is also a leap of faith for sponsors, volunteers and others who signed on for something new to Omaha.
"For several years, I thought Omaha could set a new standard for equestrian," she said. "We've set precedents for almost every sport that's come here. Why not show-jumping?"
The Omaha event, she said, is "a paradigm shift" for show-jumping, designed to be more "spectator-friendly and sponsor-friendly." Tickets start at $10.
Rather than trying to attract a huge number of entrants who pay high fees, she said, organizers limited the number of competitors and kept fees down — which required help from sponsors.
"I wanted to prove that it could be done," she said, "and that Omaha was the place to do it."
The only child of civic leaders Mike and Dr. Gail Walling Yanney, Lisa was 5 when she crawled under a fence near the family's home and first petted a horse. Her parents signed her up for riding lessons, the start of a lifelong passion.
She played high school sports at Brownell-Talbot in Omaha, and rugby at Stanford University, where she also helped start an equestrian team. After earning her law degree from Stanford, she returned to Omaha, started her business career and completed several marathons and triathlons.
In honor of her family's contributions to the community, she was named the 1991 queen of Ak-Sar-Ben, the glittery local fundraiser for scholarships.
Now 45, she is CEO of the Burlington Capital Group. Lisa and husband Bill Roskens' children are Charlie, 12, and Mary, 9.
After thinking about a big Omaha equestrian show for years and then watching the success of the Swim Trials and other events, Lisa said, she finally sat down two years ago to figure out who and what were needed to plan and accomplish it.
Now that The International is finally here, she expects goose bumps and maybe moist eyes during opening ceremonies.
"This is truly a community effort," she said. "I'm very proud of what our city has pulled off."
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