They say that all roads eventually lead home and for Canadian show jumping athlete Chris Pratt, the adage is partially true. While he is still based in Europe, the road has led him back to one of his old friends and Canadian Show Jumping teammates, Eric Lamaze.
During the 1990s, both riders operated stables less than an hour apart north of Toronto, ON. Pratt’s Performance Horses Unlimited was based in Terra Cotta while Lamaze operated Torrey Pines Stable in Schomberg. These days, Pratt is living less than an hour from Torrey Pines’ European base in Ecaussinnes, Belgium.
After closing up his own shop in 2004 to take a position riding exclusively for the Grange family’s Lothlorien in Cheltenham, ON, Pratt became a regular fixture on the grand prix circuit with an ever-expanding string of top horses. Riding Rivendell, he made his major games debut representing Canada at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany. The following year, Pratt moved to sunny California and into a position overseeing Richard Spooner’s operation while the U.S. rider was frequently spending time competing in Europe.
The move proved fruitful, and eventually saw Pratt going out on his own again with the launch of his Epic Stables in 2010. A successful training business for almost a decade, Pratt eventually felt that most of his time was being dedicated to teaching and coaching his clients instead of to his own grand prix aspirations.
Upping stakes once again in 2018, Pratt began basing himself in Wellington, FL, in the winter and Holland during the remainder of the year. He and his wife, Jennifer, launched their Dutch business from a beautiful rented stable in Helmond. Immersed in the epicenter of the show jumping world, big things were starting to happen again! Riding horses that he owned and produced himself, Pratt was competing at the best five-star shows such as La Baule (France); Rome (Italy); and the FEI Nations’ Cup Final in Barcelona (Spain). Not only was his own riding career moving forward at full throttle, he was also coaching other riders at the international level.
As is often the case in the world of horses, change is the only constant. And the year 2020, starring the COVID-19 global pandemic, would once again be a year of change for Pratt.
“I had two Japanese clients, and one was spending the winter showing on the Sunshine Tour in Spain,” said Pratt about how his year began. “I was really focused on him as he was trying to qualify for the Olympics in his homeland. I was really enjoying the high-level coaching, but the trade-off was that it took me out of the show ring for the winter. But that was okay, as I had great plans to get back into it in the summer, which of course never happened.
“When the pandemic hit, the Japanese clients went back to Japan and the plans we had for American and Canadian clients to come train and compete with us in the summer were cancelled,” continued Pratt.
Out of challenges come new opportunities, and that is exactly what happened with Lamaze and Pratt. Once Lamaze concluded his winter show season in Wellington, FL, he returned to his European base in Belgium. With a thriving horse sales business, Lamaze was interested in purchasing a new horse, but there was just one problem. The horse was in Holland and with borders closed, Lamaze was unable to travel to try it. Enter Pratt.
“Eric called and said there was a horse he was interested in and asked me to go and try it for him, which I did,” explained Pratt. “I sent him the video of the trial, and he bought it.”
The next challenge for Lamaze was having his horses back in Europe, but not having all of his professional riding staff, as several members were stuck in the U.S. Once the border reopened between Belgium and Holland, Pratt offered to come and help Lamaze jump some of the horses.
“It was so much fun to show up at Torrey Pines and jump around courses with Eric helping,” said Pratt. “I was having a blast! When Eric offered me a job riding for him, it came with the ability to move my own horses to his stable as well as keep a few of my own clients. Having been on my own for so long, going back to riding exclusively for someone else would be difficult for me. It was the perfect solution.
“I have all of the resources at Torrey Pines to run my business from,” continued Pratt. “The best equipment, the best vets, the best farriers – to have access to all of that for my own horses and business is incredibly beneficial.”
Pratt rides a few of his own horses every day, including one he hopes to show in the grand prix ring in the future, in addition to the five or six he rides for Lamaze.
Among the horses he currently rides for Lamaze are Delicalato v/h Marienshof and Egelund’s Miss Unique, an eight-year-old Danish Warmblood mare (Numero Uno x Cajus) that Pratt says is “one of the best horses I’ve ever sat on.” Both horses were recently purchased by Lamaze in partnership with fellow Canadians Mark Rein and his wife, Tara Dow-Rein. Lamaze has also given Pratt the ride on his 2015 Pan American Games team gold medal mount, Coco Bongo, owned by Andy and Carlene Ziegler’s Artisan Farms.
Partnering with Lamaze and having the opportunity to ride so many quality animals has reignited Pratt’s passion for the sport.
“As a rider myself who still has goals to reach, it’s amazing to be working with such quality horses and people at an incredible facility,” he said. “The number of talented people that work under Eric, whether they are managers, riders, or grooms, is incredible. It is truly a world-class operation.
“If you want to train show jumpers – both horses and riders – to compete against the best in the world, this is the place to do it,” he continued. “There is so much jump material that I can go out and build a new course every week with a completely new set of jumps, which I do! I really enjoy doing that.”
The ability to accelerate his professional career while working with one of his oldest friends is also a huge plus.
“Eric and I have been friends for 35 years,” said Pratt who, at 51, is one year younger than Lamaze. “I have so much respect for him. He is one of the most talented, intelligent, and loyal people I know in the sport.”
As for what the future holds post-COVID, Lamaze noted, “Chris is a good rider with loads of experience and is a great addition to what we do. My hope is that he’ll find a permanent home within the Torrey Pines organization.”
For Pratt, that sounds ideal.
“As Eric continues to grow his business and attract new investors, I think he will look to me as more than just a rider; I bring my contacts from years of experience in the sport and buying and selling horses to the table as well,” he said. “I’m looking forward to helping Torrey Pines build and maintain its reputation as one of the top training and dealing stables in the world.”