Rachel Cornacchia owns a busy breeding stable and has competed for Canada in a Nations Cup. So does she consider herself a businesswoman who rides, or a rider who happens to run a business?
“That’s an interesting question,” she admitted, laughing. “Recently, just because of where my focus has been, I’m a rider who owns a business.”
Cornacchia heads up the team at Eventyre Farms, a 26-stall facility minutes from Spruce Meadows and RMSJ established by Rachel and her family in 2014 for breeding and developing horses. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world-class farm nestled in the foothills of Alberta has taken up the lion’s share of the 31-year-old’s time in 2020 since the competitive avenues have dried up.
“It’s obviously been very different than what we would do in a competition year,” Cornacchia explained. “Usually we would have travelled to the U.S. and out east and done a bunch of competitions there all summer long. That did not happen. We didn’t compete nearly as much as we had planned to, which meant we were at our home stable a lot more.
“It was good and bad,” she remarked about having to stay put. “It was nice to be home. We were able to start a bunch of our young horses we bred here at home, so that was good to focus on that versus competing. A lot of local people were able to use one of our very good stallions for their breeding program this year.”
Cornacchia is aided at the farm by Jim Ifko, another of this country’s top riders, who is operations manager and trainer. He, too, has been rising in the Canadian competitive ranks, so this past year has affected him adversely as well.
“We have a few horses that we feel are at the top of their game right now,” Cornacchia noted, “so we were really excited for this year, to keep progressing with them at bigger competitions. Definitely we do feel like we’re a little bit behind. Specifically, people in the U.S. and throughout Europe were able to continue competing, whereas in Canada not so much. We were thankful for a few local tournaments and smaller shows. I’m not a super-experienced rider at the top level yet, so I now even feel a little rusty compared to a lot of the other riders out there.
“Obviously, we’ve been continuing training at home, all of our horses are in great shape, but definitely we do feel like progressively we’re not moving as forward as we’d like this year.”
Cornacchia’s 2019, on the other hand, was a year to remember. In the spring, she made her Nations Cup debut in Mexico and in the fall, she and her top mount Valkyrie de Talma finished sixth in their first five-star event at Tryon.
The Nations Cup experience was daunting. After original Team Canada member Laura Jane Tidball was hospitalized following a riding accident, Cornacchia – who was in Mexico to cheer on Ifko making his Nations Cup debut – was pressed into service.
“I wish the circumstances had been different; it’s too bad how it all happened,” she admitted. “But it’s something every rider dreams about ultimately, donning the red coat for the first time. Of course, I had to borrow somebody’s because I didn’t have one yet. Now I do have one!
“I had never competed in anything that huge before. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it was so good for me and my confidence, knowing that, hey, my horse and I, we can do this. It really set up the rest of the year. Last year was our best year for sure.”
Team Canada, which also included Lisa Carlsen and Nicole Walker, finished third. Cornacchia was grateful for everyone’s advice, but in particular Ifko’s.
“It was incredible experiencing that together,” she admitted. “It was a special moment for our team. He has so much knowledge and for him to go through it calmed my nerves. He has a way of doing that before any competition for me.”
The pride she has in her four-legged partner, Valkyrie, an 11-year-old grey Selle Francais mare, is evident.
“She’s amazing,” Cornacchia began. “She has this incredible heart that I’ve never had in a horse. Definitely my horse of a lifetime for sure. She has a little bit of her own way of going and I kind of let her do that. I feel that if I don’t get in the way of that too much, that’s when she is at her happiest. She competes in this tiny rubber bit so as much freedom as I can give her, the better she goes.
“She’s a bit of a firecracker; she has her moments ‒ a spicy mare when she wants to be. But she’s very sweet. Honestly, she’s done everything for my career and I’m beyond grateful to be teamed up with her.”
In terms of the immediate future, Cornacchia has some proposals in place, but as she has discovered this year, the best laid plans …
“I think things are still a little bit up in the air,” she described. “I’ve been hearing people having issues crossing the border, but we are hoping and moving along this month, finalizing plans to go to Florida to compete in January. Our plan is to be there for about three months and then come home. We’re working with our federation a little bit, and they’re trying to give us a hand on what things can make it easier for us to get there.”
Then in the summer of 2021, she has her fingers crossed that Spruce Meadows will be up and running once again.
These are the types of competition experiences that Cornacchia knows both she and Valkyrie must have in order to reach her ultimate objectives as a rider.
“I want to keep progressing at this top level,” she said, “and representing Canada again in a normal circumstance, where I’m actually picked to be on the team and I’m not a default. That’s a big goal of mine.
“Hopefully we will make more five-star appearances and see where it takes us. With this horse I have right now, I feel the sky’s the limit.”