Monday night it was full of adoring Bon Jovi fans. Now it's all dirt.
Preparations are under way to transform the CenturyLink Center from a rock arena into a world-class venue for The International, the second annual competition hosted by the Omaha Equestrian Foundation.
Friday and Saturday, riders and horses from around the world will race around the arena at top speed, leaping over obstacles and navigating challenging, Olympic-style courses.
First, though, the arena must undergo a significant changeover, one that began earlier this week with the arrival of 300 dump trucks worth of dirt and 200,000 square feet of rubber matting.
The man responsible for the makeover is John McQueen, a professional horse show manager from Calhoun, La., who also staged The International last year. Tuesday morning, McQueen looked on inside the CenturyLink Center as three front-loaders carried dirt from a massive pile he called Mount Vesuvius to the arena floor.
The biggest challenge of staging a show-jumping competition in an arena, McQueen said, also is the most fundamental: Just about any surface you can walk on in the arena area needs to be covered.
“Polished concrete and horses do not go together,” he said.
Nearby, half a dozen workers were setting up row after row of gating, the building blocks that will create 200 horse stalls adjacent to the arena. Later in the week, this room, site of gleaming auto shows and marketing exhibitions, will become an enormous horse stable, complete with warmup rings where riders and horses will prepare to take the big stage.
Horses will begin arriving today. McQueen expects about 150 horses this year, up from 100 last year.
“Our ultimate concern is for the safety of these horses,” he said. “Some of these horses that will compete are million-dollar animals. Their safety is our priority.”
The show-jumping course also will take shape today under the direction of Anthony D'Ambrosio, an international course designer from New York.
“He's qualified to build for the Olympics,” McQueen said.
The International will be one of about 20 events McQueen manages this year, including other major competitions in St. Louis and Knoxville, Tenn.
None of the others, though, presents the precise challenge of making an arena horse-friendly. None of the others, it's safe to say, will follow a Bon Jovi concert.
On Tuesday, McQueen surveyed the work to be done, with a watchful eye toward the ground.
“If it's not covered in rubber, it's going to be covered in dirt,” he said.
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