By Emily Oller

For The Bulletin

On a blistering evening and surrounded by several hundred spectators, Kevin Winkel and his horse Osophia were the big winners at the Oregon High Desert Classics.

The Ashland rider and his 12-year-old warmblood mare placed first in the $25,000 Sheri Allis Memorial Grand Prix.

Twenty riders competed in Saturday’s event, the highlight of the second week of the Classics at J Bar J Boys Ranch east of Bend. Only the first two riders completed clean rounds to qualify for the final jumpoff round.

“I was pretty confident following my course walk-through,” Winkel said. “I didn’t even watch the first rider go. After I heard he was clear, there was a little more pressure. I just focused on having a good canter and doing a good job for my horse.”

Winkel, 32, was second to go, following Hugh Mutch, of San Rafael, California.

Mutch, on top of his 12-year-old Holsteiner stallion Cristar, set the pace for the remaining 19 riders by posting a clean first round in a time of 77.004 seconds.

“(Cristar) is a newer horse for me,” the 58-year-old Mutch said. “I’ve shown him now in four Grand Prixs. I’m just kind of getting to know him. He’s a blood horse, which means he has lots of excitement. … I think Kevin’s horse probably spends a little less time in the air. Mine jumps a little loftier.”

According to Winkel, Saturday’s Grand Prix course was a true test for riders, which made for a difficult ride.

“The course designers do such a good job,” Winkel said. “The course designer asked a lot of questions (presented a lot of challenges), so (as a rider) you had to be well-rounded, and luckily (my) mare is super clever. She knows where her legs are in relation to the top of the rail.”

Mutch was followed by Winkel, who finished a clean round with a time of 74.566 in the first round. Winkel also competed aboard Tuxedo and came in fourth overall with one fault and a time of 72.948. Zoe Conlee, of Ridgefield, California, aboard D’Artagnan, came in third with one fault and a blazing time of 72.098.

In the jumpoff round, Mutch and Cristar jumped first, setting the pace at 40.778. Winkel and Osophia managed to just barely grab the win by posting a time of 40.737.

“Kevin has a really good horse,” Mutch said. “I’ve watched them for years. His horse is coming back from a hiatus due to an injury. So it’s nice to see my buddy have his horse back.”

Winkel raised Osophia as a filly and said that she took a break from competition due to a back injury nearly one year ago.

“I baby her,” Winkel said. “I took the whole fall and all of winter off. Then started her back slowly. I just started showing her, and now it’s almost the end of the season. But, as long as she’s strong and healthy she’ll continue to improve.”

According to Winkel, the heat — temperatures in the mid-90s — did not significantly affect his horses’ performance in the Grand Prix.

“We’ve been here now for two weeks,” Winkel said. “The horses have been jumping great. I think this year the footing is better than ever. The heat hasn’t really affected the horses.

“They just came back from competing in Northern California, where it was in the low 100s.”

The 29th annual Oregon High Desert Classics conclude Sunday, when featured events include the $10,000 United States Hunter Jumper Association International Hunter Derby at 8 a.m. and the $3,000 Mini Grand Prix at approximately 3:30 p.m.

Spectators are welcome and admission is free. Dogs at the show must be on a leash at all times.

“This is probably my favorite show that we come back to every year,” Winkel said of the Oregon High Desert Classics. “I love the town and the management is super friendly. The horses just love it here.”

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