Chris Pratt – Canadian Turned California Boy

In 2006, Chris Pratt was a major fixture on the Grand Prix scene.  In the Nations’ Cup in Wellington, he turned in two clear rounds riding Mustique to help Canada secure victory.  With major grand prix wins, including the $125,000 CN Grand Prix in Bromont, Quebec, riding Susan Grange’s Rivendell, Chris was ready for his major games debut.  He headed to Aachen, Germany, as a member of the Canadian Show Jumping Team for the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

At the Royal Winter Fair that fall, American rider Richard Spooner offered Chris the opportunity to join his busy training barn as a rider and coach.  Accepting the job required a huge leap of faith, and Chris packed his bags and headed to California; a place he had never even visited before.  The gamble paid off, and soon Chris was well-mounted with grand prix horses and training some of California’s top young riders including Katherine Bardis.  In 2007, Chris enjoyed several grand prix victories with horses such as Royal Beach Faroa, Conquest of Paradiso and Live Fire, with whom he won the $50,000 World Cup Grand Prix in Del Mar.  He qualified for the 2008 World Cup Final in Goteborg, Sweden, but a horse injury prevented him from making the trip.

As 2008 dawned, Chris decided it was time to return to running his own business, as he had done for many years in the Toronto area.  As Richard planned to spend the summer in Europe competing on the Global Champions Tour, Chris gave his six months notice in February.  The long notice gave Richard peace of mind to continue with his summer plan while also giving Chris the time to put his own plans into place.

“We had a great time, Richard and I, schooling together and showing together,” Chris maintains.  “He is a good friend of mine, and always will be.  But this can be a frustrating business.  It is hard to get enough grand prix horses for one person to ride, let alone for two people.  I think that to be successful at this sport, you need to have full control over what you are doing, both with your horses and with your program.  I decided I needed to do my own thing, to have my own business, in order to go in the direction that I wanted to go.”

Chris decided to remain in California, noting, “It is a little untapped.  There is big opportunity in California for people who want to take that step out beyond the California scene.  It can be its own little world – the ‘California Bubble’, as I call it.  There are a lot of shows and a lot of grand prix events in California, but I think that there is an opportunity and an interest in moving outside of that.  With the recent international success of Richard Spooner, Will Simpson being on the U.S. Olympic Gold Medal Team, and Rich Fellers being second at the 2008 World Cup Final, I think California is going to see some big changes.  I feel like I am there right at the right time.”

In September of 2008, Chris opened the doors to Epic Stables, based at Middle Ranch, just outside of Los Angeles.  Joining him in the operation is Chris’ girlfriend, Jenn Badala, who was Eric Lamaze’s right-hand for many years, as well as assistant trainer Lisa Cahn, a well-known rider on the California scene.  After three months in business, Chris had 26 horses in the stable.

“I was worried about staying current by basing myself in California, but by basing the business in California and doing the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington in the winter and going to Spruce Meadows in the summer, I think it is a good recipe,” he explains of his decision.  “I think I have come up with something that is going to work for me and my clients.”

In addition to coaching several young riders who are entering the grand prix ranks, Chris has also been successful in finding owners to ride for, including Sue Geleibter and well-known California horse dealer, Ilan Ferder.  Ferder owns Chris’s current top mount, Green Sleepes Vioco, a Belgian Warmblood by Nabab de Reve that is showing in the Grand Prix division at the 2009 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.

Developing a strong group of owners is Chris’s top priority in running his business.

“My number one priority is to develop a group of owners that will own horses that keep me at the top of the sport,” he says.  “You have to have a wide range of clients owning a wide range horses, including developing horses, so I have some depth in my string as far as having horses to show.”

Although it had been a few years since Chris ran his own show barn, he had no trouble readjusting to the benefits of being his own boss.

“It is nice to be back, doing my own thing,” says Chris, who will turn 40 in April.  “I don’t regret any of the years in my past where I haven’t had my own business, but you get a lot more gratification at the end of the day when you know that everything you have accomplished is because you have built everything up yourself.  I think it is important to be happy in the industry, and to enjoy what you are doing on a daily basis.”

Chris has major plans, both short-term and long-term, including once again representing Canada in major games competition.

“My short-term goal is establishing a solid business in California where I can operate out of and develop horses from,” says Chris.  “I also want to get back on the international scene.  I had a taste of it in 2006, and I have spent the last year two years reorganizing.  I am trying to get back on the Canadian Team, and to get back to being at the international shows.  I want to be a consistent member of the Canadian Equestrian Team and to be organized enough for the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.”

Quick to add that learning to surf is another one of his major goals, Chris is taking full advantage of the California lifestyle.

“I love driving down the pacific coast highway and seeing a top-of-the-line, brand-new BMW convertible with a surfboard hanging out of the back,” says Chris, laughing at the juxtaposition.  “I like the people.  I like the individuality.  People are not so concerned about what other people think about them.”

A lot of changes have occurred in Chris’s life in the past two years.  Looking ten years down the road, Chris says he sees himself, “possibly still based in California, but spending winters in Wellington and summers in Spruce Meadows.  Then spending spring and fall between Europe and California.”

Returning to Canada is also part of the long-term plan.

“I miss Canada a lot!” he says emphatically.  “I miss the land, the green space, the natural environment.  I miss the quiet.  No matter where I am based, I will always remain Canadian.”

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