Oregon High Desert Classic

When people think of non-profit organizations and fundraisers, we don’t usually think of horse shows. We think of candy and t-shirt sales, maybe a silent auction. However, for 30 years, J Bar J Youth Services of Oregon has, very successfully, made a horse show their main annual fundraiser.  In fact, it’s the biggest horse show in Zone 9 annually, hosting upwards of 600 horses. Read on to learn about this very influential organization, and the ways they have found success in the horse show business with the Oregon High Desert Classic.

J Bar J Youth Services

The organization began in 1968 with J Bar J Boys Ranch (the actual site of the horse show) and grew into six different organizations, all working to support, educate, and elevate at-risk youth:

  1. J Bar J Boys Ranch (est 1968) for at-risk boys age 13-18
  2.  Academy at Sisters-(est 1994) for at-risk girls age 13-18
  3.  Big Brothers Big Sisters-(est 1994) mentoring program with lifetime one-on-one partnerships
  4.  Cascade Youth and Family Services (est 1989) emergency shelter and counseling for homeless youth
  5.  Grandma’s House (est 1992, joined J Bar J 2017)- emergency shelter to homeless and abused mothers & pregnant women.
  6.  Kindred Connections  Family Crisis Support

OHDC aerialEach component of the J Bar J charities have a hand in helping with the show.  Many of the kids in the program help with the preparation of the grounds. Some of the program participants are eligible to help at the actual show as servers.  A team from Grandma’s House caters a VIP luncheon. And groups from Big Brothers Big Sisters hang banners and promote the show in picturesque downtown Bend. According to Events Coordinator Kirsten Morrell, the kids really look forward to the show, to seeing the horses, and to the experience of pulling off such a grand event.

How has J Bar J managed to fund and grow all six charities with one major fundraiser? Though they also have two small, one-night events during the year, and of course accept donations at all times, the two-week show is their major event for the year. They’ve made it happen by doing an exceptional job with that fundraiser.


They Hired an Industry Expert

The Oregon High Desert Classic (OHDC) is managed by 2017 USEF Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Dianne Johnson.  The official show manager since 1997, Johnson is by all accounts, one of the most organized, experienced, and effective show managers in the US. Plus, she is a tremendous horsewoman, at one point winning the

Grand Prix of Calgary twelve consecutive times. Johnson aims to make horse shows memorable and special, as well as exciting and accessible for the general public. The Oregon High Desert Classic is her favorite show all year. She is a big fan of the show itself, and she passionately supports the cause.

Not only does the show benefit a great cause, it is their primary annual fundraiser, and is planned and executed by J Bar J.  Though Johnson comes in to run the actual show and oversee everything involving horses and exhibitors, J Bar J staff prep the grounds, permits, and hospitality in conjunction with Johnson.  Morrel works on logistics for the two-week show throughout the year to make sure that when Johnson arrives, the grass is manicured, the schooling rings are in perfect condition, and that there are flowers and foliage in abundance.

When Executive Director Stephanie Alvstad came on board in 1997, the show was a small one, with just a couple rings,and not yet coming close to making its fundraising goals. Alvstad asked Johnson how to step it up, and Johnson told her to invest in the show grounds- get the footing right, get the feel right, and the people would come.  So over the next year, they consulted with industry experts to make the grass fields, as well as schooling rings, in exceptional condition for the horses. They also invested heavily in landscaping and exhibitor amenities. It paid off- exhibitors loved the improved show, wanted to return, and talked it up.

These days, people reserve stalls far in advance to be able to get into the show.  They maximize the grounds with 6 show rings and 600 horses, money classes, and lots of donors.   J Bar J also focuses on making all show experiences exhibitor friendly- prioritizing great customer service as well as perks like free carrots for the horses!


They Go All-Out to Make it Special- for Everyone

Oregon High Desert ClassicThe OHDC is the biggest show all year in Zone 9.  Hosting around 600 horses, with 750 stalls and 1000 exhibitors on the 40 acres of J Bar J Boys Ranch, it’s laid out well and functions superbly for such a large group of competitors.  

The culture at the show, as well as in the J Bar J offices all year, is one of excitement and purpose.  They know that by going to the ends of the earth to make a truly memorable experience for everyone, they allow all those involved to serve a higher purpose. The value exceptional customer service, organization, glorious surroundings, and over-the-top showmanship.  They put thought into the details- like making sure they have kid-jumps for little brothers and sisters to enjoy.  They create classes for every level to experience showing on the grass- from lead-line, to a hunter derby, to a Grand Prix. Also, the team meticulously plans all logistics so that parking, horse care, and other components run smoothly. The Oregon High Desert Classic is not just another show for this crew- it’s the show, and it must be spectacular.  The result is a two-week event that feels sophisticated and regal, yet still fast-paced and fun for both spectators and exhibitors.

It’s one of the few remaining shows in which all the show rings are grass, which is a big draw for competitors.  Even better, the rings are immaculately maintained, and in fact, their only purpose, all year, is these two weeks of horse competition.  This allows the rings to be in tip-top condition for the horse show. The schooling rings, however, are brand-new textile footing, generously donated by Master Surfaces.  


They Earned Exclusive USHJA Endorsement

The Oregon High Desert ClassicThe Oregon High Desert Classic been designated a Heritage Competition by the USHJA.  The designation of a US Equestrian Heritage Competition is reserved for competitions that have been established for a long period of time and have made a substantial contribution toward the development and promotion of the sport, both within the broader community, by achieving, maintaining and promoting the equestrian ideals of the sportsmanship and competition.” This means it’s among the ranks of Washington International Horse Show, Harrisburg National Horse Show, Devon, and just a handful of others.

The show works hard to endear itself to the entire local community and has become a major event.  That support from people outside the horse industry is key to USHJA as well as to the charity. Local news covers the show every year, and hundreds of spectators come to see the competition, as well as special exhibitions for entertainment. It lends to the energy and joy of the horse show, and makes the experience anything but typical.


They Use all their Resources to Promote the Show Year-Round


Oregon High Desert ClassicThe purpose of the show, of course, is to be the main annual fundraiser for all six J Bar J Youth Charities, so most of the marketing is in raising awareness of the show, which in turn raises awareness of the non-profit. J Bar J has strategic partnerships in Bend, Oregon, where they are located.  They work closely with the Bend Chamber of Commerce, VisitBend, State Tourism Board, Central Oregon Visitors Association, The Bend Bulletin, and KTVZ Bend.  Cultivating these relationships has allowed them to get a lot of exposure and marketing support that has made a tremendous difference, and allowed the Youth programs to grow.

Not only do these groups support them, but they attend the show in great numbers.  The team at J Bar J goes out of their way to make sure the show is exciting and entertaining for all who attend- whether they are horse fans or not.  The result of the buzz in the town and the energy of the show is that the whole town gets excited to support the event, and to be a part of it. Local businesses are eager to have their names involved.  Citizens take pride and ownership, and that translates to fundraising dollars, on a large as well as a small scale.

The 2019 Oregon High Desert Classic, now in its 30th year, will be held July 17-July 28th at the J Bar J Boys Ranch, 62895 Hambry Road, Bend, OR.  
Please see their website to donate, sponsor classes, or access the prize list for this year’s event.


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Jenn Crow has been a lifelong barn rat, and a hunter/jumper professional for 20 years with a passion for teaching and operations, from lesson programs, to IEA Teams, to shows such as WEF, Harrisburg, and Washington.