The annual J Bar J Oregon High Desert Classics horse show kicks off Wednesday, and for many local equestrians it is an event that is enthusiastically anticipated every year. For trainers such as Bend’s Rachael van den Berg, the OHDC showcases many of Central Oregon’s attributes.
“What’s cool is that Central Oregon has such a big show in our backyard,” van den Berg says. “A lot of these (local) kids have done a lot of schooling shows with maybe 50 horses, but then this show, which is over 600, is a whole other type of environment. It’s cool for them to work through that process.”
The 29th annual show starts its two-week run Wednesday at J Bar J Boys Ranch in northeast Bend, which will host as many as 650 horses and 1,000 competitors, according to horse show manager Diane Johnson.
“We get so many people from out of the area,” Johnson says, “which is nice for the exhibitors to be able to see new faces. There are a ton of people coming from California … but they love to come to Bend.”
Van den Berg, owner and lead trainer for Elevate Sport Horses, has been competing and working at the Classics for more than 10 years. According to van den Berg, the event has not only made her a better competitor, but it developed her career as a hunter and jumper trainer.
“This year I would love to do the ($5,000) Mini Grand Prix,” she says. “But we’re going to take it one day at a time. One thing I love about the High Desert is that you can add or scratch an event the night before. So you can listen to your horse and make the decision of what the next stage should look like.”
In 2012, van den Berg began her career as a professional trainer working out of Horse Butte Ranch in southeast Bend. Over the past six years, she has developed many talented horses and riders.
“When I started working at Horse Butte as a working student,” van den Berg recalls, “I got the privilege of showing some sale horses (at the OHDC). The Classics was always the highlight of my summer, because my family and I would save up for the High Desert every year. It was always a big deal for us.”
Van den Berg started Elevate Sport Horses in 2015, and she recently acquired her own property near Bend Municipal Airport northeast of town to further serve the horse jumping and dressage community in Central Oregon.
“This is a family affair,” van den Berg says. “It’s my husband (Pieter van den Berg), my mother-in-law, Diane, who is my coach and who helps me manage this, and myself that runs this business.”
While van den Berg and her clients will attend more than 20 shows this year, she says the Oregon High Desert Classics event is one of her favorite shows to compete in. She adds that she plans to have 16 horses along with 15 riders, from ages 8 to 50, at J Bar J for the Classics.
“I love the ambiance of the event,” she says. “I really look forward to seeing all of my students bringing their best selves to the event. They do all this hard work at home to gear up for it. And seeing them make progress, that’s the highlight for me.”
The headliner event of the first week of the OHDC is Saturday’s $25,000 Oxford Suites Grand Prix. Johnson says Friday’s $5,000 USHJA Derby, along with Sunday’s $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby and the $3,000 Mini Grand Prix, will be spectator favorites as well.
The second week of the OHDC, which runs July 25-29, will include the $10,000 USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Regional Championship on July 26, the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby on July 27, the $25,000 Sheri Allis Memorial Grand Prix on July 28, and the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby on July 29.
Spectators are welcome and admission is free every day. Dogs at the show must be on a leash at all times.
“The town of Bend is great,” Johnson says. “One of my aims is to get the horse show through early so people can go play in Bend. There’s river rafting, golfing, restaurants, it’s just an amazing place.”