The new horse show in Grand Island came at a great time for riders because some of them will be galloping off to Oklahoma City in a few days.

The Grand Island show, called Lopin’ and Ropin’ in the Heartland, allowed those riders a valuable chance to prepare for the American Quarter Horse Youth World Championships, which runs in Oklahoma City in early August.

One of those young riders, Caleigh Iwanski, and her trainer will head for Oklahoma in five days. Iwanski, 17, lives in Stockton, Kan.

The Grand Island show offered a great chance to get “everything set and finished that you need to work on before you go down to compete at that,” Iwanski said.

Also heading to Oklahoma City is Olivia Klug, 16, of Columbus.

The Grand Island event was also convenient for people who plan to compete in the open and amateur world shows in November.

“So we have a lot of open and amateur riders here trying to finish up their qualifying on their horses,” Iwanski said.

Trisha Pitts of Vale, S.D., pointed out that qualifying ends Wednesday for the American Quarter Horse Association world show. This was the last weekend “you can get qualified if you’re missing some points,” Pitts said.

The inaugural Lopin’ and Ropin’ in the Heartland finished up its four-day run Sunday at Fonner Park.

Connie Henrichs of Albion, who organized the horse show, predicts that the event will grow.

“They think it’s a wonderful place,” Henrichs said of the riders.

The numbers were already good the first year.

“We probably had 350 horses on the grounds,” she said.

People arrived in Grand Island, competed and departed throughout the four days.

All told, the show probably brought “a couple of thousand people” to town, Henrichs said. That number is accurate if you count exhibitors and families.

The horse people came from Texas, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa and Colorado.

Henrichs’ company is White Horse Show Management. “My business is equine event management,” she said.

Grand Island provides excellent facilities, and there are no quarterhorse shows in Central Nebraska, Henrichs said.

“We’d like to promote the area. It’s kind of all about the heartland of Nebraska,” she said.

Grand Island officials approached Henrichs about bringing a quarterhorse show and a national reined cow horse show to town.

“And here we are,” said Henrichs, who worked with the Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority.

The show wouldn’t have been possible, she said, without the assistance of Gene and Cathy McCloud, who own Super 8 and Best Western Plus together with Ray O’Connor. Those hotels are marketed together with Boarders Inn and Suites, which is owned entirely by O’Connor.

The horse show was “great for the community,” Gene McCloud said.

Pitts is well-acquainted with Henrichs.

“We came because we really like the show manager here, Connie and her crew — White Horse Show Management,” she said. “They always put on a good show, and this is the first horse event here. She said it was a great facility and we wanted to come see it, and we agree. It’s a great facility. They’re really missing out by not having more horse events here.”

In addition to the stall area, which she said is “really nice,” Pitts likes the temperature inside Five Points Bank Arena.

“The climate-controlled arena’s pretty dang nice when it’s hot down here,” she said. The air conditioning didn’t make much of a difference Sunday, but it came in handy a couple of days earlier.

Will Pitts return next year?

“Absolutely,” she said.

Pitts, who was competing in reining and ranch riding, came to Grand Island with her sister, Pam Lostroh of Baltic, S.D. Her group brought seven horses to Grand Island. She is affiliated with Randy Guggisberg of Sliding G Performance Horses of Custer, S.D.

Klug was competing in ranch riding and reining. She came to Grand Island not just to prepare for Oklahoma City, but also because of her love of showing.

“Anytime I can get in the show pen is a blessing,” she said.

Klug said she loved the facility. In addition, “The people are always so nice and welcoming here.”

Iwanski came to Grand Island with her trainer, Craig Cole of Downs, Kan. Together, they brought four horses.

Her registered quarterhorse, SF Jackpot, is nicknamed Husker because Iwanski has Nebraska roots. Her father, Craig, is from Loup City and her mother, Jessica, is from Omaha.

Over the weekend, Iwanski competed in youth ranch riding and youth working cow horse boxing.

Husker, she said, is “pretty easy to get along with. He always wants to go and show. He’s a showman. He likes to go and show off, and when we step in the pen, he knows his job really well. So there’s really not a whole lot we disagree on.

“Just like any horse, he has his spooks, and he’ll get scared of certain things sometimes, but it’s nothing we can’t ever work through,” Iwanski said.

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