“The High Desert Classic is, by far, the biggest horse show in the Northwest,” according to the show's professional manager, Diane Johnson, 76, a former horse jumping world champion.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, on the grounds of the J Bar J Boys Ranch off of Hamby Road in northeast Bend, 525 riders and their horses from as far away as Texas and Alberta, Canada, will begin vying over two weeks for scores of awards and more than $160,000 in prize money, said Johnson.
Jumping, hunting and equitation events will be conducted simultaneously in six arenas each day, with a break on Monday and Tuesday. A highlight will be a Grand Prix jumping competition for $25,000 in purses both Saturdays.
J Bar J Youth Services of Bend, a local nonprofit offering housing, shelter, counseling and educational resources for troubled teens, has sponsored the High Desert Classics horse shows for more than 20 years, and hopes to raise $200,000, according to Amanda Gow, development director and event coordinator. This year, Gow said, proceeds are earmarked to support J Bar J's Street Outreach program, designed to get troubled teen girls in Central Oregon sheltered before they are forced into prostitution by predatory sex traffickers.
Spectators can watch the horse shows for free.
About the shows
In 1990, J Bar J Youth Services board of directors decided to resurrect a moribund horse show in Bend. For over 22 years, it has nurtured the affair into a major source of funding for its activities, Gow said. Today it is actually two events held on successive weeks with different groups of horses and riders: High Desert Classic 1, Wednesday through Sunday, and High Desert Classic 2, July 25-29.
Jumping is the easiest contest for most spectators to understand, Johnson said, and the most popular; three of the six arenas at the Classics are dedicated to jumping.
“Riders try to get their horses around (the course of jumps) as fast as possible with no faults; anything goes. It's what you see in the Olympics,” Johnson explained.
Hunting is all about the performance of the horse as the rider takes it over the jumps, Johnson added, while equitation is all about the performance of the rider as the mount clears the obstacles. Hunting and equitation are judged by more subtle standards than jumping. Exquisitely groomed steeds and formally attired riders add to these sports' aura of elegance.
“Everybody likes to come to Bend,” said Johnson, noting the Classics always draw top equestrian talent, first-class breeders, and the best judges in the country. About 85 percent of those attending the event are from outside our area, she said, and they inject an estimated $2.5 million into Central Oregon's economy for rooms, food, retail sales and other goods and services.
J Bar J Youth Services include The J Bar J Boys Ranch — the site of the Classics — the Sisters Academy for girls, the accredited J Bar J School for boys and girls, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Oregon, and the LOFT program, which provides counseling, food and shelter for local homeless teens. Combined, the nonprofit annually provides services to thousands in our area, and the need is growing.
“We've really seen an uptick in homeless youth in Central Oregon,” Gow said. “A lot of times, those kids are really shy about what's going on and don't know where to find help. So our program goes out to find these kids where they are — they might be living in a car or 'couch surfing' — so we can get them off the streets.”
“We are hoping to raise $200,000 for Street Outreach and our other programs,” Gow concluded. “The High Desert Classic is absolutely vital to the success of JBJ Youth services. We are just so appreciative to everybody in the horse community for their support.”
If you go
What: Oregon High Desert Classics
When: 8 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday and July 25-29; Grand Prix competitions at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays
Where: J Bar J Boys Ranch, 62895 Hamby Road, Bend
Cost: Free for spectators
Contact: www.jbarj.org/ohdc, 541-389-1409