by Kathryn McMackin
Portraits by Kristie Nichols
When you ask a professional in the horse business — especially eventing — what it takes to succeed in the industry, you’ll often hear these distinct characteristics in response: willingness to learn, a strong work ethic and perseverance. Those same traits perfectly describe Colorado eventer Rochelle Costanza.
“Eventing is a very tough sport and not something a professional just ‘picks up,’” she said. “You have to be immersed in the sport in all aspects. It takes an extreme amount of dedication and passion to train yourself, others and horses to be successful in the sport.”
Studying with various trainers around the world in disciplines from racing to Western, Rochelle realized that she would never be done learning. “You could live many lifetimes studying all aspects of horses and not even touch the surface of the subject!” she said.
Now 51, Rochelle continues to pursue her own education even as her years of dedicated study and practice have developed into Platinum Farms LLC, a training and boarding facility in Franktown, Colorado. It wasn’t something that happened overnight — and she continues to put in the time and effort to make it succesful, adding severe weather to the already long list of challenges any professional faces.
“A professional has to be willing to work long, hard hours in all conditions,” Rochelle said. “Horses don’t get trained by standing around; you can’t be a fair-weather rider.”
She easily summed up the “why” behind what she does and said, “I do this because I love horses.”
Not Just a Passing Phase
Despite being crazy about horses since she was toddling around, Rochelle didn’t get her first horse until she was 13 years old. Growing up in Arcadia, California, Rochelle’s contact with horses was limited to celebratory birthday riding lessons and the occasional wander on her aunt’s steed.
In the end, it wasn’t Rochelle who convinced her parents to let her have a horse, but a distant relative. Once her dad heard that all teenage girls outgrow the horse-loving phase, he was on board. The thinking was that Rochelle would bore of the horse in six months, she remembered, then the horse could be sold and Rochelle would leave her love of horses in the dust.
“He couldn’t have been more wrong,” she laughed. “But it convinced my dad to let me have a horse, so I’m thankful for the opinion.”
Once she was mounted on her own horse, there was nothing stopping Rochelle’s equestrian dreams. She and Appy Girl, a 15-year-old blue roan Appaloosa, were a frequent sight on the local trails, and a passerby may have caught a glimpse of the pair wandering through the urban streets and — once — in the McDonald’s drive-thru. Thirteen-year-old Rochelle cleaned stalls to pay for board and rode Appy Girl bareback that first year because she didn’t have a saddle.
Rochelle dabbled in many disciplines as a budding equestrienne, and worked at local barns to pay for lessons. From age 15 to 25, she sought out every learning opportunity she could: She was a working student at a hunter-jumper barn as well as for a western trainer; there was a short period of time when she rode saddleseat and trained gaited horses; she barrel raced and showed in competitive trail classes; she broke horses and re-trained off-the-track Thoroughbreds.
“I pretty much did any discipline anyone paid me to do,” Rochelle said. “I was a quick study; I read up on things and worked alongside other trainers to widen my horizons and knowledge. I admired anyone who was successful working with horses, I didn’t care which discipline. I’ve worked with a ton of trainers who all work totally differently.”
Rochelle graduated from California Polytechnic State University — where she was captain of the horse show/rodeo team — with an undergraduate degree in animal science and a concentration in equine studies. Her goal was to become a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. In 1995, she moved to England to continue her equestrian education as a working student at Patchett’s Equestrian Center, a large training center in Hertfordshire, and to pursue British Horse Society certification.
“That was where I was first introduced to the sport of eventing and caught the bug!” Rochelle said. “I loved how it combined the three things I loved most about training horses.”
All About Eventing
Rochelle earned her certification and returned from England, married her husband, Nick, and moved to Colorado with a newfound passion for every aspect of eventing — especially cross-country. “Cross-country combined my love of galloping horses, as I had done working with racehorses, with jumping and beautiful countryside,” she said. “I’m letting the horse have a little bit of freedom, but at the same time the horse is looking to me for control and balance. There’s a confidence that comes from riding a horse cross-country. It feels the most natural to me, of all the disciplines. It feels like the horse is just allowed to go out and be a horse.”
Though her heart was set on eventing, she knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road. “At that time, I didn’t even know if I would be able to be a professional in eventing,” she said. “I was just happy to have a career at all — in any discipline. I was going to do whatever I was able to do and be happy with it.”
A turning point in Rochelle’s eventing life came when she trained an unbroken 3-year-old called Xena for a foxhunting couple. She worked with Xena for six months and she returned to her owners. “A year later, they realized that though she was a fabulous horse, she was too much for them. They realized she needed a more experienced rider to bring out her true potential, so they gave her to me,” Rochelle said. “I was a young professional with no money and I am ever indebted to them for this act of generosity because it changed my eventing life. When I realized how truly special she was, I registered her with the USEA under the name Enchanted because her uniqueness was magical. I had never ridden a horse quite like her.”
Not only was Xena athletic but she was so intelligent that it was a challenge for Rochelle to come up with different things to keep Xena’s mind engaged. Eventing came naturally to her: Rochelle began competing her at 5 years old and she moved up to training level by the end of the season. By 8 years old, Xena was competing at the intermediate level and nearly always coming in top three, so Rochelle entered her in her first FEI 2* event at the Colorado Horse Park — and won it.
“It was one of the most memorable days, and the biggest competition accomplishment I’ve had in eventing,” Rochelle said. “To this day, I’ve never had a horse quite like Xena.”
Though intermediate level proved Xena’s limit and Rochelle made the decision for Xena’s best interest not to push her any further, Xena went on to an incredibly successful lower level career, including American Eventing Championships Reserve Champion Preliminary Rider, competing in the North American Young Rider Championships, Novice Adult Rider Champion at the American Eventing Championships and more — all with different owners at Platinum Farms, where she’s still thriving at 22.
Focused on the Present
Rochelle’s business solidified with more successful competitions and horses she trained over the years, and with the help of local eventing trainer Lynn Klisavage, whom Rochelle met soon after moving to Colorado. “I was looking for a local eventing trainer to take weekly lessons from in between the clinics I attended,” Rochelle said. “I’ve considered Lynn my instructor and friend for over 20 years now. I’ve brought nearly every eventing prospect to her for lessons at some point, and we’ve had a very successful partnership in producing competitive event horses. I very much respect her as a true horsewoman through and through – she’s now 70 years old and still teaching and riding daily!”
With Lynn as her inspiration, Rochelle’s goals include competing preliminary and beyond. “I have goals — both short- and long-term — that help to keep me inspired, but I find if I focus more on the day-to-day joy, it makes me appreciate my lifestyle, horses and clients more,” she said.
Rochelle has a number of young eventing prospects in her barn, but she’s most excited about Fleetwood, a 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse bred by Robin Walker specifically for eventing. Rochelle bought Fleetwood last November and though he’s very green, he shows a great amount of promise for the upper levels of eventing. Only time will tell, but Rochelle is well-acquainted with the challenges of bringing horses along — especially in her area.
“It’s difficult to maintain the horses as competition-ready year-round because of the weather,” she said. “We also have to take caution with the footing as it can be very hard. We don’t get the luxury of competing or training on grass very often! You can’t really do much cross-country at all in the winter unless you travel south. When I do have a horse that is along in its training and about to do preliminary or higher, I go to Aiken in the winter and train with Jan Byyny. Fleetwood will be 6 next year and ready for more challenges physically and mentally, and then I hope to start taking him to some out-of-state events.”
Along with Fleetwood, Rochelle has many prospects — of the four-legged and two-legged varieties — who are looking to develop their skills in 2019. The past year saw an influx in students joining the Platinum Farms event team, dubbed Team Fearless in memory of Avery Dudasch. Avery was a longtime supporter of Platinum Farms; she lost her battle with cancer in 2012 when she was 11 years old.
“Creating a team has also created an atmosphere of caring and support for one another,” Rochelle remarked. “Our team includes everyone — boarders, grooms, spouses — it’s not just about the competitors.”
Rochelle may be in the horse business because she loves horses, but she’s also passionate about working with Team Fearless and introducing new people to eventing. Two additional trainers, Jenny Slade and Chelsea Dougherty, help Rochelle as she tries to stoke the fire of anyone with a passion for the sport. “In eventing, there’s a feeling of camaraderie with everyone working as a team — you’re competing more against yourself than against other people,” she said. “I set small goals because the sport is so complex. You may finish in last place, but you will have ridden the best dressage test you’ve ever ridden — and you’ll still feel successful.”
Rochelle lives the barn life 24/7 with 40 lessons a week, 11 horses in training and 35 boarded, and only semi-jokes that her spare time is spent riding her own horses. But for her, there is no other way — it’s never crossed her mind to be anything other than a professional equestrian. And after about 30 years in the horse business, she’s just as inspired by the four-legged athletes as she was as a California teenager.
“As long as I can get up on a horse, I will never lose faith in riding to my utmost potential,” Rochelle said. “On the inside, I’m still a 13-year-old, crazy horse girl dreaming that the sky is the limit.”
For more information, visit www.platinumfarms.org.
Photos by Kristie Nichols, moonfyrephotography.com, unless noted otherwise