Chenoa McElvain is a talented 25-year-old show jumper from New Mexico. She has been greatly influenced by her parents and grandparents’ interest in breeding and training horses. This legacy has served her well as she traveled to the West Coast to compete. McElvain is based out of Santa Fe, but still has close ties to her family farm in Lemetar, New Mexico.
WH: How did you get started riding?
CM: I guess you could say it was in my blood. My grandma bred Holsteiners, mainly for dressage, and my mom and dad eventually took over the breeding program when my grandma retired. About seven years ago, we developed the breeding program with a focus on show jumping bloodlines. I grew up fox hunting, trail riding and showing — I basically grew up on the back of a horse. I quickly began to develop a life around them. Horses are my passion. I love competing, developing young horses and breeding.
WH: To whom do you credit your indomitable spirit?
CM: Well, the women in my family seem to be indomitable spirits. My mom is the heart of the ranch. She always ensures that Rancho Corazon keeps its purpose in mind — “the heart of the horse” — the reason why we all get to live this amazing life surrounded by amazing animals. My grandma, Betty, has such an immense passion for the horses. She has trained with some of the most revered horsemen in the world and she is still a very active voice throughout our riding and training systems. I think it is so important to see through the ribbons, success and points and remember the real reason why this is such an amazing sport. It’s the relationships we get to form with these amazing creatures. It is something that we should feel so privileged to experience. The foundation of all that knowledge is really what the sport is about — being a master and spending a lifetime achieving it.
They have also taught me that failure is the time to learn. I have come to appreciate failure as it has taught me so much, while making those times of great achievement so fulfilling.
WH: How did your family’s interest in horse breeding influence you?
CM: I grew up with my family breeding horses. It teaches you some big life lessons. Horses are like people — it matters how and where they grow up as well as who teaches them. It is something that I think is lost a little in the U.S. today. We don’t have a great foundation for raising and developing young horses, but it has become so enlightening to learn how to do all of that by researching the best methods for training, nutrition, farrier, vet care and handling. One of the best things about Rancho Corazon is that we are very progressive and are always trying to better our business.
WH: Tell us about your horses.
CM: I recently, about two years ago, opened my own training facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the HIPICO Santa Fe horse show facility. I currently have two horses that are my main upper level horses who I show at the grand prix level.
Voila is a 10-year-old Hanoverian mare. I purchased her in Germany as a 6-year-old and developed her there with a friend of mine, Alex Bontemps. I rode her in Germany for a summer, showing her and two other mares in the Youngster Style classes including the Hanoverian Young Horse Championship in Verden. She is now showing in the smaller 1.40m–1.50m grand prix competitions. She is my rock, has a huge heart and is the most fun to hack.
Wallstreet RC is a 10-year-old Swedish Warmblood stallion who I also bought as a 6-year-old. I developed him for six months in Germany and then imported him. He has been a challenge for me to bring up. He is a very strong, opinionated guy. He was always such a huge talent, and in late 2016 he really started to come together. Going into 2018, he has placed in about 10 grand prix events this year. He is truly an amazing horse. He is very competitive and loves victory gallops. He is also very goofy in the barn.
I also have a 6-year-old and three 5-year-olds that I am working with as well as client and sale horses in my programs so we’ve been very busy.
WH: What brought you to the West Coast show circuit and what is your goal for 2018?
CM: We plan on moving Wallstreet RC into the 1.60m classes. I wanted to start working on FEI points and applying for some Nations Cup teams. My 2018 goals are to continue to develop Wallstreet RC into those classes. It is such an amazing experience and requires such a high level of focus, technique and pressure. I love that my horse and I are developing together into uncharted territory. It’s so rewarding to work through moving up into international competitions as a team.
WH: Please tell us about the trainer(s) that most influenced you.
CM: I have trained with several people within the last year. I want to develop as a professional and I have been seeking guidance from several horsemen and women. Right now Jenni and Steve McAllister have offered me mentorship. They are truly amazing people and it has been such a fun journey with Jenni on her road to the World Cup Finals. To be a part of and witness to the work, dedication and detail that goes into their success is truly inspiring. Jenni is such a wonderful rider and has taught me a lot about patience, focus, horse care, show jumping and dressage.
I also hosted a few clinics last year and look forward to attending and hosting a few more in 2018.
WH: I hope this isn’t too personal but can you tell us about the Soteria safety vest and the two incidents where it prevented a serious injury?
CM: I broke my collar bone in 2013 on a young horse. I also broke my rib and punctured my lung in 2016. I bought the vest to start riding again after the last fall. It can be hard sometimes to come back after six weeks of recovery and reflecting on your fall. I wanted to come back feeling strong so I decided to buy a vest. It was the best thing I have done for my riding. I want to spend a lifetime achieving in this sport. I have had a few falls, but only one was serious enough to hurt me in Sacramento, where I was jumped out of the tack at the last jump. I fell very hard on my back and got bad whiplash, but luckily I had the vest and it broke my fall a little and helped support my neck. I ride a lot of young horses and they can just be so unpredictable. I just think it’s a no-brainer. It’s a dangerous, high-impact sport. It is not “if” but “when.” I would rather cowgirl up and get back on than go to the hospital!
WH: You are on the road a lot — how do you deal with the peripatetic lifestyle?
CM: That’s a tough one. I guess I am just kind of used to it. I’m always ready to go to a horse show, but I also make a point to enjoy being home and take some time off. I like to do a lot of my training at home and only really plan a few big shows a year.
WH: What advice do you have for a young professional?
CM: Take advantage of the incredible horsemen and women that are around you. Don’t be afraid to seek help from the people who have been in the business for years and don’t forget why we love this sport — it’s always for the horses.
WH: What are your thoughts on competing in Europe vs. the U.S. for ambitious American riders?
CM: I think it would be better if Americans supported the American industry more, however Europe has a lot of really valuable things to teach us about developing horses and the sport. It’s a little easier to get FEI points when you are in Europe as competitions are close and more frequent. It would be great if we could develop some more FEI shows in the U.S. that aren’t just for World Cup riders, allowing our riders to develop through the ranks on our own turf. In terms of training, Europeans understand the foundation of horse training that is just not as present in the American industry.
WH: What are your thoughts on equitation as a foundation for show jumping?
CM: I did not do equitation. I started in the pony hunters and moved into the jumpers. I have seen several good riders come through the equitation ranks and I think it serves as one of the better ways of developing detailed, correct riders. It’s also a great tool for training young riders how to deal with pressure and high level competitions. I also think equitation has really progressed with riding and training systems.
WH: What is your opinion on the current state of show jumping in the U.S.?
CM: I am both disappointed and inspired! I find it frustrating sometimes that I feel the sport is becoming more and more about money and less about horses. I feel that we are making the sport inaccessible. I also feel that new horse shows are trying to change the way horse shows operate. As a breeder, it is really expensive to develop young horses in the U.S., but the market is all for horses that are developed. It can be very expensive so it is nice to see more shows taking action to support U.S. breeders. It is also good for the horse buyers since European horses are getting increasingly more expensive and European breeders are breeding less horses. It would be good for Americans to buy their horses from American breeders. We really have a lot of opportunity to better the sport in the U.S., it just depends on what actions we take and who we support.