Thursday, May 6, 2010

McElvains Love Their Horses

By John Severance

LEMITAR -- It’s located on Highway 408 just outside of Lemitar, 350 acres of irrigated pasture, hay fields and riding trails along the Rio Grande . It’s a horse lover’s dream.
Rancho Corazon, owned by Guy and Sharon McElvain, is a world-class horse facility right here in Socorro County.
The McElvains have big dreams when it comes to their horses. They travel the country, going from locale to locale on the show jumping circuit. Recently, they just got back from a six-week visit to Thermal, Calif. Later this year, they will travel to Chicago, Parker, Colo., and back to California to compete in scenic Del Mar and at the prestigious Oaks in San Juan Capistrano.
“We are on the road most of the year,” Guy said. “Thermal was a good experience. We have some new horses and the competition was difficult.”

On average, they spend 32 weeks out of the year on the show jumping circuit. They have been doing this for the past 10 years, competing with the top professionals in their sport.
The sport is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of time, money, effort and even some luck to succeed.
It’s never easy. And when tragedy strikes, it makes it even more difficult.
The McElvains and their Grand Prix rider/trainer John McConnell had just returned from Tulsa, Okla., and were getting ready to compete in Del Mar in April 2009.
On April 28, McConnell and his brother Bill loaded up eight horses in the trailer and began the long drive to California. Down Interstate 25, they traveled and when they got to Hatch, they took the state road to Deming where they would pick up Interstate 10 and head out to California.
The trailer never made it. Somewhere on that state road around 2 a.m., the axels got really hot and the rear tires of the trailer caught on fire. John was able to open the forward compartment and get four of the horses out. The flames, though, made it impossible for further rescues. They got the back door open, hoping the horses would jump out. Three of them did not have a chance. One of the horses did jump out, but he had to be put down because of his burns.
Lost in the fire were Grand Prix horses Carolina , Air Force and Candilagos. Carolina and John had won the $25,000 Tulsa Classic Grand Prix on April 26.
“It’s very tragic,” Guy said. “They actually are still investigating it. They still don’t know why the axel got so hot. They are going to be hard to replace.”
The McConnells and the McElvains were understandably devastated but they also knew in the back of their minds that they had to press on to pursue their dreams.
They bought some more horses that they believe have Grand Prix potential. And one of their first big tests was the six-week stint in Thermal last month.
“It was a good experience. We got some good placings. It’s been tough because the horses we lost were just getting competitive at the International Level,” Guy said. “It takes a lot of training to get horses to the International Grand Prix level. Everything has to go right.”
The McElvains have the right trainer to get the job done.
John McConnell knows what it takes to get to the Grand Prix. In 1986, his first year as a professional, John had won 19 ribbons in Grand Prix competitions and was qualified for the American Grand Prix (AGA) Championships. In 1987, John showed on the East Coast and was in the top 10 AGA horses and rider point standings. He qualified for the World Cup in Paris and finished seventh. Additionally from 1997-2000, John was a top 10 contender in the Mass Cup Finals. To date, McConnell has won 30 Grand Prixs and his horses and students have competed and had success at all levels.
Guy and Sharon’s daughter, Chenoa, recently graduated at the top of her class from Kaplan College Preparatory School (KCPS). It is a private, online high school specializing in college preparatory education for students in grades 6-12. In 2009, Chenoa deferred college for a year to pursue her equestrian goals and she will attend a university in the fall of 2010.
At 18, Chenoa has already been a competitive rider for 12 years. She rode in her first Grand Prix at the age of 13. She qualified for the NAYJRC (North American Young & Junior Rider Championships) for the first time in 2006 and competed in NAYRC for Zone 8 for four consecutive years placing in the top 14 in the nation for three of those years.
Chenoa said she has been contacted to appear in a reality show called “Perfect Ladies.” She didn’t know if it was going to be on either MTV or Bravo. Chenoa has competed internationally in Mexico, Canada and Germany. Chenoa has many high placings in Grand Prix and High Junior/Amateur Owner Classes and Classics in shows across the United States.
Chenoa’s parents, Guy and Sharon, bought and built Rancho Corazon, which happens to be right next to Rancho La Querencia, which was owned by Guy’s mother Betty.
“La Querencia” means “Favorite Place." And one can see why.

Betty bought the property 25 years ago and her specialty was breeding Holsteiners. Betty and her clients also showed in classical dressage and hunter jumper competitions. Two years ago, the two properties became one and now all of the McElvains are involved in the breeding operation as well as the other several aspects of the horse business.
“Once we breed the horse to the time the foal hits the ground, it costs about $7,500,” Guy said. “From there, it costs about $3,500 per horse per year. And so by the time, they are four or five years old, you already have $40,000 to $50,000 in the horse. And even then, you are never sure what you have. So if you get a good one that is balanced, sound and talented, that’s what makes them so valuable.”
In addition to their own horses, the McElvains have several clients from Santa Fe to Las Cruces, who board at the facility. And most of the clients have their horses in full training as well.
There also is a place for retired sporthorses and they spend their days munching on grass in one of their irrigated fields.
“We have about 100 horses on the farm,” said Guy, who serves as president and CEO of McElvain Oil & Gas Properties, in Denver .
Guy, who has been around the sport all his life, began sport horse jumping in 1995 and is an amateur competitor. He began riding in Grand Prix competition in 2001.
Guy co-founded the Caza Ladron foxhunt club in 2000 and co-founded the Grand Prix de Santa Fe in 2004. The Grand Prix de Santa Fe is the premier show jumping event in the state, but there will not be one this year.
The event’s board of directors canceled the 2010 event due to the loss of its title sponsor and venue host, Las Campanas which is located Santa Fe .
In the meantime, the McElvains will hit the road and work on pursuing the ultimate dream. “It’s everybody’s goal to reach the Olympics,” McElvain said. “It’s our ambition. It’s been Chenoa’s goal. We just have to keep working at it.”

Pictures: (top) Sharon McElvain and daughter Chenoa take a ride on their property.

(bottom) Betty McElvain talks business with son Guy McElvain at their 600-acre horse facility in Lemitar.

Photos by John Severance

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