Oregon Horse Country was the creation of the Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Director, Jennifer Johnson. When Jennifer was hired at the Chamber in 2006 she took over a difficult role. The Wilsonville community was rich with business – ranging from small independently owned stores to major international manufactures, however, there was nothing to drive tourism into the community. Jennifer was asked to find a way to change this and assist in making weekends as full as weeknights.
After researching more, she realized there were a lot of horses in the area. Growing up riding dressage and jumping in southern Oregon, this intrigued her and caused her to look deeper into her passion of horses. She pulled together a focus group consisting of a variety of horse people from the area and quickly discovered that this group was divided and in most cases didn’t even know about each other. This surprised her as the Wilsonville community was only about 18,000 people!
The initial group launched in late 2008 and the name Oregon Horse Country was used as a marketing brand to promote local equestrian shows and activities to our audience outside of the region. The purpose was to draw weekend hotel room stays. The group informally met monthly for lunch at a local ranch and discussed issues in the industry and how they could help each other. By mid-2011 it was apparent that the format of Oregon Horse Country was only helping a few of the equine businesses who were involved with tourism related businesses and events, however the audience that was attending the luncheons and asking for help was becoming more of the business owners.
There was also a need for the group to become more formalized and assist the local equine community in new ways; however Jennifer’s tourism position was contracted and clearly stated that she was unable to work on any projects that did not directly result in additional local hotel nights. Brandi Ebner was then asked to participate in the meetings to learn more about what the group wanted, as her role of Membership Director at the Chamber was much more flexible. It was quickly determined that there was a desire for a structure that would allow ideas to be presented that could help the whole local equine industry (tourism and business).
Since Jennifer was unable to take action on most of the ideas, staff came up with a plan where the organization would be co-lead – Jennifer would continue her tourism marketing efforts locally and Brandi would take on the non-tourism components. With support from the CEO, staff and volunteers took the latter part of 2011 to completely restructure the program. During this time, it was discovered that there was no organization or body of people who helped equine businesses across Oregon. Staff also could not find any state resource to help us in our research, which was apparently leaving a huge hole in helping the industry grow and be successful.
In January 2012 Oregon Horse Country was re-launched as a state-wide equine Chamber of Commerce model. To this day, staff cannot find any program in the country that does what OHC does. The goal was to represent, support, and promote the equine industry across the whole state, while at the same time bringing new equine related tourism dollars to Oregon and provide a resource so that any horse person (or non-horse person) could use us to find what they are looking for.
Jennifer resigned in early 2013, in order to focus on other persuits, and Brandi took over the full responsibility of the program. In 2014, Oregon Horse Country launched a 501 (c)(3) Foundation which will allow for non-profit grants, youth scholarhips, and the acceptance of individual donations.
By mid-2015 the Wilsonville Chamber acknowledged that the Oregon Horse Country program was strong enough to stand on it's own and really did not fit with the mission and purpose of the Chamber any longer. An enormous amount of time was spent in late 2015 by OHC staff and Board members to form a 501 (c)(6) organization that would be independant and truly be able to focus on the equine industry across Oregon. On November 10, 2015, the initial Board of Directors meeting of Oregon Horse Country launched the new format to the organization. OHC Staff and Board are excited to take the organization to the next level and activate a number of new programs and member benefits. You can support Oregon's equine industry by becoming a member, sponsor, or attendee to one of our many events.