Horses have always been a huge part of Guy and Sharon McElvain’s life and their daughter, Chenoa, was cut from the same cloth. After establishing her own training business in Santa Fe, New Mexico and helping her parents build the foundations of HIPICO Santa Fe, Chenoa is setting her sights on a bigger picture: working towards representing the United States one day. For now, the young professional is focusing on developing a handful of young horses, developing young riders and developing the equestrian community in her home state of New Mexico.
A Rider, Born and Bred
Just like horses, some people are just bred for the sport and Chenoa is a prime example of that. Her grandmother had a Holsteiner breeding facility which emphasized in producing horses for dressage, but Chenoa’s parents later branched off and placed their focus on show jumping. When Chenoa came along, it just made sense that she too would be bitten by the horse bug.
From conquering her first horse show at just six years old to making her debut in the Grand Prix ring at only 13, Chenoa has always known she wanted to work with horses. But her passion didn’t originate in the show ring. “My dream was to be a master of the hounds,” she shared with JN as she reflected on her early days in the hunt field as a child. “That faded when I was eight or nine and I started my career in the pony jumpers.”
From there, Chenoa did everything possible to grow as a competitive equestrian, but her father was adamant that she place that dream on pause to attend college. So Chenoa moved off to California where she would spend a year the University of Redlands and train with Dick Carvin of Meadow Grove Farm, but her spirit was restless.
“I really didn’t like school there,” she admitted. “I was just outside of Los Angeles and I couldn’t stand the traffic coming from a rural town. It just wasn’t a good fit and I knew something was going to have to change.”
Chenoa was inspired to transfer to the University of Denver in Colorado, where her father spends two weeks out of the month for work, and give school a second shot. There she fell in love with the idea of college, so much so that she took a small hiatus from riding so she could focus on her studies. After graduating with a double degree in sociology and anthropology, however, Chenoa knew exactly where she was meant to be: in the saddle.
Building Foundations in New Mexico
Upon graduating college, Chenoa moved back home to her parent’s ranch just a hair over an hour and a half from Santa Fe. There she served as barn manager and improved on her own skills as an equestrian until her parents made a huge investment in the city of Santa Fe.
“When my parents purchased the HIPICO Santa Fe property I knew it was time for me to become a bit more independent. So about three years ago I moved to a more popular area in Santa Fe and started my own farm.”
Chenoa enjoys having a varied focus in her training program at Rancho Corazon. Her assistant trainer, Wendy Hoff, has a background in the hunter and equitation rings, while Chenoa brings her years in the jumper ring and working with young horses to the table. “I love doing a little bit of everything,” she shared with JN as she explained their unique program.
But it doesn’t end there. Chenoa recently implemented a scholarship program at Rancho Corazon to help develop young riders as well. “I am very passionate about bumping up the equestrian community,” said Chenoa. “I try to give people a chance. I have the benefit of having all kinds of horses and so this program gives my working students a chance to ride and show.”
Earlier this summer, Chenoa awarded her first young rider scholarship to Lillian Rogers, one of thirty very deserving applicants for the scholarship’s inaugural year. The scholarship consists of a full ride throughout the Santa Fe Summer Series and two additional months of training at Rancho Corazon post-circuit.
“I feel like there is a major disconnect here in the states,” Chenoa continued. “It doesn’t feel like there is a way to fully develop young people into this sport. You see a lot of working students get stuck as a groom or barn manager and they lose the opportunity to learn about the finances and training and other essentials that go into running your own program.” Chenoa aims to continue this scholarship every summer and perhaps take on even more working students through the program to give them chances they may not otherwise have.
Bringing the Sport Back to Santa Fe
Like her parents, Chenoa also shares a love for New Mexico and all it has to offer the equestrian community, so the team at Rancho Corazon do their part to support the shows at HIPICO Santa Fe.
“New Mexico has a pretty great core of an equestrian community,” she said. “In the past there were some A-rated shows, but there was never a really great facility. There were a lot of people, but not a ton of higher end shows to support them. I think the equestrian community in New Mexico fell behind due to lack of funds really and that is what inspired HIPICO Santa Fe.”
What started out as weekend horse shows modeled after the European mentality of show during the day and party at night, the McElvain and Gonzalez families came together to create an environment that brought the fun back into horse showing. After receiving loads of support from the community, HIPICO Santa Fe transitioned to a full-blown A-rated summer circuit three years ago.
“This is such a special sport and the horses are so special. It’s fun to share it in a place that feels like home when our competitors travel to show here,” Chenoa shared.
With her many emotional ties to the New Mexico area and the HIPICO circuit, it was no surprise that Chenoa had her heart set on winning the circuit’s biggest class, the Grand Prix de Santa Fe. And 2018 was her year to see that fantasy fulfilled.
“It was always my goal to win this class,” Chenoa recalled. “It was so special because my entire family was watching. My grandparents have been watching and supporting me since I was a kid. I know it’s hard to rationalize a career in this industry sometimes, so to win on my home turf with all my family and friends and community around me was really special.”
Chenoa has big dreams of representing the United States on a team one day, but she knows that means there is a lot more work ahead of her. She doesn’t let that thought deter her, however, and is focused on the present to see the future come to life.
“”I am really lucky to have such a huge support group and team behind me which helps build toward bigger goals and makes everything I want to do possible! I know that [my goals] mean I will have a lot longer of a journey than other riders,” she admitted. “But I really love developing the young horses and know I will have to grow my own. I think if I can do that and do my part to keep the equestrian community alive in New Mexico that I am doing what I need to be doing.”