For the Love of Horses & Kids

(L: Stephen Pellett riding Camera Ready during 2019’s Week 2 Oregon High Desert Classics International Hunter Derby | Photo by Eva Gill, R: Hang Time by Kimry Jelen)

When Kimry Jelen was young she dreamed of being an artist and horse trainer, and her father gave her the standard advice of the time: Those are hobbies, you need to choose a career to make a living. She followed his guidance, and built a successful career in fashion design — creating outdoor apparel for O’Neil, Nike and Royal Robbins.

When technology moved the artboards onto a computer, she knew she wasn’t cut out to spend her days sitting in front of a screen. She left that career to follow the call of her original dream, leading her to a ranch in Montana where she painted and trained horses. Embracing her passion, all the pieces fell into place. Opportunities appeared in the form of invitations to art shows and galleries, and she created a life doing the things she loved. For several years she split her time between New Mexico and Montana, always near horses. 

Family needs brought her to Central Oregon, where she saw a poster for the Oregon High Desert Classics (OHDC) painted by Marta Batha. She immediately knew she wanted to create a poster like that, and she has. This summer will mark her 12th painting to be featured as the poster for the OHDC horse show, a benefit for J Bar J Youth Services. 

The relationship between Kimry and the organization helping youth goes beyond the painting for the show. As a volunteer, Kimry has taught art to girls at the Academy at Sisters, and enlisted youth from the J Bar J Boys Ranch to assist at studio sales. She’s seen firsthand the work that J Bar J Youth Services does, and speaks passionately about them. “The youth are acknowledged for who they are. J Bar J finds their strengths and gives them opportunities in that direction,” said Kimry. “It’s not a cookie cutter situation, kids are allowed to grow and find their own talents. (J Bar J) helps each individual, and tries to get them engaged in the community and in life.”

Kimry no longer trains horses other than her own, the art has taken over. Her goal in painting is to capture the joy and beauty horses have to share with us. About her work, she says, “I’m always trying to show the connection that horses offer us, with nature and ourselves.” 

The posters featuring so many of Kimry’s paintings are publicity for the Oregon High Desert Classics, the largest hunter jumper show in the region. Each year, 600 horses and 3,000 participants gather at J Bar J Boys Ranch in Bend to compete for $150,000 in prizes on six of the last remaining grass footing rings in the country. Thousands of family, staff, vendors and spectators join them, celebrating the athleticism of horses and riders, and enjoying a variety of food and shopping at the vendor booths in the show village green.

The Oregon High Desert Classics is a benefit for J Bar J Youth Services, a nonprofit operating several programs for youth facing obstacles to self-sufficiency and independence in Central Oregon. Their programs include: Cascade Youth & Family Center, providing shelter and programs for runaway and homeless youth; Grandma’s House, a home and programs for pregnant and parenting girls; at: project, providing case management and support for victims of human trafficking and coordinating the Deschutes County Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Response Team; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon, matching mentors (Bigs) with kids who need a positive adult roles model (Littles) to ignite their potential; Kindred Connections, mobilizing area church communities to provide support to families in crisis and to provide temporary housing to their children as the parents work toward stability; J Bar J Boys Ranch / J5, residential programs helping juvenile offenders restructure thinking to make better choices and The Academy at Sisters, a therapeutic boarding school for girls, empowering young women struggling with anxiety, depression and other hurdles to find wholeness and achieve academic excellence.

[Update] Like so many events worldwide, this year COVID-19 has changed the face of the Oregon High Desert Classics — and unfortunately, J Bar J had to cancel the Classics.

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