By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Kristie Nichols
There’s nothing quite like life when you have love in your heart. From their very first meeting, Guy and Sharon McElvain have let their hearts lead the way in everything they pursue. Together they are not only carrying out the McElvain family tradition of breeding, developing and showing Holsteiner sport horses at their Rancho Corazon, they also have an eye towards the future of the sport with their HIPICO Santa Fe Horse Park.
The stars aligned to bring Guy and Sharon together, even before their first actual meeting. “Sharon and my late brother, Mac, were roommates while both working at the Taos Ski Valley area one winter. Mac told Sharon, ‘One day you should meet my brother Guy; you two would fall in love, get married and have kids,’” Guy said.
A year later, Guy went as his cousin’s “wingman” to take Sharon’s roommate on a date. “Sharon and I met that evening, went on our own date the next day and have been inseparable ever since,” Guy said. “I guess Mac saw the future.”
From the beginning, Guy and Sharon knew the key to a happy and lasting relationship would require them to embrace each other’s passions. “Guy and I have always lived for adventure. We had a deal early on in our relationship, that he would teach me how to ride horses and I would teach him how to ski,” Sharon said. A fair deal, the passion for horses has been not only been passed to Sharon, but also to the next generation, by way of children Chenoa and Clayton, who are also looking to expand on the family business.
Guy learned through watching his parents, Tim and Betty McElvain, that the best path you can take in life is with those you love. Avid foxhunters, classical dressage and hunter-jumper riders, Tim and Betty worked very hard to make a life with horses. While Tim has always been a big outdoorsman and scholar, Betty has had a huge passion for horses her entire life.
At their cattle ranch in Texas, Tim and Betty began to experiment with crossing various horse breeds in an effort to create the perfect mix of conformation, temperament and athleticism. A visit to Europe changed the trajectory of the McElvains’ breeding program. Just like Guy with Sharon, when Betty saw the Holsteiner stallions at the Verband in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, it was love at first sight. The Holsteiners embodied every attribute Betty had been attempting to breed for back home in the States.
After that fateful trip, Tim and Betty purchased a Holsteiner stallion and two mares and began their newly revamped breeding program, which has now been going strong for 35-plus years. Shortly thereafter, the pair relocated to New Mexico and bought Rancho La Querencia, “Favorite Place,” where Betty still lives today.
Once Betty got her Holsteiner operation up and running, she experienced a lot of success. “My mother was breeding horses with great minds, strong conformation and great movement,” Guy said. “She was picking mares that matched well with her stallion, Columbus (Corde La Bryere X Merano), and using classical dressage methods for breaking and training. The journey my parents went through together with horses from western saddle to cross-breeding Arabians, Thoroughbreds and Percherons to Holsteiners was quite beautiful and amazing.”
Adventurous by nature, Guy and Sharon decided to try their hand at the family business shortly after they wed in August 1990, thanks perhaps to a little nudge in the way of a gift from Betty. “My mother gave me a Holsteiner she had bred named Corazon. Sharon and I then went out and bought Sharon a retired Thoroughbred mare we named Anasazi,” Guy said. Young and passionate about horses, Guy and Sharon spent as much time as possible outdoors enjoying their horses, whether it was riding in the mountains or foxhunting with Guy’s parents.
“Early on in our marriage, we decided we should either start an outdoor adventure company or move down and help my mother with her breeding farm. After our daughter, Chenoa, was born, we decided to make the move and eventually bought land next to Rancho La Querencia for our own operation,” Guy said. “We named our place Rancho Corazon after the horse my mother gave me, and for our love of the horse and the passion we shared.”
While Betty focused on producing quality dressage horses at Rancho La Querencia, Guy and Sharon wanted to breed horses for the hunter and jumper rings at Rancho Corazon. “We started using Thoroughbred mares because they crossed so well with Columbus. He genetically overpowered the mares, so as long as you bred him to a mare with a nice big frame, the result was a quality sport horse that had his attributes of good conformation, incredible topline and quiet disposition,” Guy said. In fact, Sharon bred her own Anasazi to Columbus five times. Two of the offspring, Courchevel and Chamonix, turned out to be incredible grand prix jumpers.
“When we first introduced the Holsteiner to the jumper shows in New Mexico, many people were still riding Thoroughbreds. Once warmbloods became prevalent, the sport demanded faster, lighter, more careful horses with the same good Holsteiner mind,” Guy said. “So we had to retool our breeding program to meet that demand.”
Rather than using the same foundation stallions and mares for the long haul, Guy and Sharon realized they had to use younger breeding stock with modern bloodlines they liked, breed them for a few years then put them into the show ring. “This way, we’re continuously focusing on the quality of our offspring while keeping up with what characteristics buyers want,” Guy said.
As amateur jumper riders themselves, Guy and Sharon love the fact that the horses bred at Rancho Corazon are capable of reaching the top levels of equestrian sport in an amateur-friendly package. With help from Chenoa, now a Rancho Corazon trainer, both Guy and Sharon have seen their fair share of success in the show ring.
On occasion, Guy and Sharon compete against each other. “We are very competitive, but are truly the best of friends, supporting each other to always be the best we can possibly be. We make the best team by complementing each other,” Sharon said.
Guy chuckled in response, “I don’t always enjoy going head to head against Sharon. She’s very competitive when we compete against each other. Enough said.”
HIPICO Santa Fe
In 2015, Guy and Sharon, along with business partners Brian and Phyllis Gonzales, bought HIPICO Santa Fe. “As a family of equestrian innovators and trailblazers, what motivated me to purchase HIPICO was to try and complete the circle,” Guy said, “ — have a place where we could show, network, innovate, market, participate, enjoy the fruits of generations of labor and create a legacy.”
Like Guy, Brian was also born and raised in New Mexico and has a passion for horses and the equestrian community. Prior to purchasing HIPICO, Guy and Brian ran a charity event, Grand Prix de Santa Fe, at the same facility for six years. The first grand prix to be held in New Mexico, this one-week event did a lot for the local equestrian community.
“We decided when the property came up for sale we would buy it and try to take it to the next level. We wanted to put the equestrian industry in New Mexico on the map, show the rest of the world how enchanting New Mexico is and highlight how important horses are to the New Mexico culture,” Guy said. “It’s always kept a low profile, but you can fly fish, jump in a grand prix, watch an ancient Native American rain dance and experience an opera under the stars all in the same day, with a red or green chile enchilada somewhere along the way.”
In addition to strengthening the horse scene in New Mexico, HIPICO has also provided career opportunities to Chenoa and Clayton. Chenoa runs her training business through Rancho Corazon, but is based at HIPICO. She has developed a great group of dedicated riders and owners supporting her, Rancho Corazon and HIPICO. “It’s a great mix. She’s able to campaign a group of show and sales horses, continue her competitive riding career and achiever her personal goals, all through HIPICO,” Guy said.
Though Clayton doesn’t step in the show ring like the rest of his family, he rides for pleasure and spent time working as an outfitter and guide for Acacia Riding Adventures. Where he does join the family endeavors is through his work with his business, CM Footing Services, where he installs arenas and footing. “Clayton has used his many years working at HIPICO and other shows learning footing and construction. He’s put that extensive experience and knowledge to work building beautiful arenas via his business,” Guy said.
As amateurs, Guy and Sharon embark on every equestrian endeavor with love for the horse and sport first. “The horse industry is now totally dependent on the amateur, so it’s important for us to be supportive, innovative and do our part to assure it not only survives, but that it thrives,” Guy said. From conception to competition, the McElvains are making their mark in the next generation of horses competing in America and providing riders with a venue to showcase their talents. “Being a family together out there doing what we love is a dream come true,” Guy said.
“I want everyone to know it’s possible to be successful breeding quality horses here in the United States. We can create an industry for our children where we aren’t so dependent on European imports and influence,” Guy said. “If we build the right infrastructure and support, our children can go into the horse industry as professionals and be able to not only financially support themselves, but flourish.”
Although it hasn’t always been easy — there’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way — the duo wouldn’t change one step of their journey. Whether it’s been watching Guy’s parents perfect their passion of breeding or working as a family with Chenoa and Clayton, they’ve cherished every minute spent together pursuing their common passion. “This year marks our 30-year journey of marriage, with many great adventures in love,” Sharon said. “Rancho Corazon truly is our sanctuary holding our hearts together with love and horses.”
For more information about Rancho Corazon and HIPICO Santa Fe visit ranchocorazon.com and hipicosantafe.com.
Photos by Kristie Nichols, moonfyrephotography.com