By Tafra Donberger
Portraits by Isabel J. Kurek
When a horse-obsessed kid is born into a non-horsey family, there’s usually a little confusion for the parents. Chris Ewanouski was born into a competitive family — his dad played professional hockey for a time — but the horse gig? That was new to the family, and became uniquely Chris’ passion.
Chris’ mom, Kim, had originally taken an interest in riding and found a local barn near Boston that advertised lessons. He went with her, and that was all it took for Chris to “catch the bug.” The barn quickly became the only place he wanted to be, and since his mother only rode recreationally, she and Chris’ dad, Michael, didn’t expect riding would turn into a career.
As Chris grew increasingly competitive, finishing his last year as a junior strong and considering college, it started to become clear that the horse world would be his calling. He took a position with Geoff Teall, and now works as a trainer at Ñapinday Horse Sales Inc., based in Wellington, Florida, and Lexington, Kentucky, under Federico Sztyrle.
“My parents pretty quickly realized it was all working,” Chris laughed. “They saw how happy it made me and in the end it was fine.”
The biggest motivation for Chris’ career comes down to the horses. While he has the support of his family and the guidance from Federico, the love of the animal has brought him from the hunter equitation classes to the grand prix jumpers, where he’s found success riding a variety of amazing equine partners.
Riding and Showing
Chris’ junior eq horse, Sam I Am, took him to his first big win, in his final year as a junior rider, winning both the horsemanship class and the hunt seat medal final class in October 2005 at the New England Equitation Championship. Not only was he the first to win both, Sam had been a young, green horse.
“That was the first horse I could really compete consistently on,” Chris said. “And we grew together. He wasn’t necessarily the most fancy, but he tried really hard and he was really sweet.”
There was Orbetello, owned by Margie Engel, whom Federico had been showing. When back pain at the spring series in Wellington sidelined him, Federico asked to switch riders, handed the spurs to Chris, and said, “Use those spurs and get on!”
“I had ridden him a little at home, but it wasn’t a horse I was super familiar with,” Chris said. “First time showing him, and he jumped double clear — it was really cool!”
Another notable mount is Binja, who, at the time Chris competed with her, was owned by Castle Point Farm LLC and Lindsay Strafuss. He rode her to the win at the $35,000 ProElite Spring I Grand Prix at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in April 2018; their next big win was the $25,000 Hagard Lexington Classic in July 2018; then the $30,000 Welcome Stake at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival in July 2019.
“She’s a really fun horse to ride, and super fast,” Chris recalled.
It was also rewarding for Chris to see Binja move on to competing with a junior rider. “I love when I’ve brought a horse along and you end up finding the perfect rider for them, or the perfect rider finds you, and you watch them go on to have a really nice life.”
Currently in the string, and one that Chris has thoroughly enjoyed, is Vagabon De La Vallee, owned by Cavalli Reale Stables LLC. Chris had begun following the horse in winter 2018, watching him through the following year. He was always really impressed with the horse.
When a stall opened, the Bloomen family asked Chris to see if he could help get the horse sold. Though he remains actively for sale, Chris has enjoyed the opportunity to get more involved with the gelding.
“He reminds me of myself in horse form,” Chris explained. “He gets excited at the show; he’s totally game to show or jump in any ring and he’s really tries. I really liked him from moment one.”
Loving Happy Horses
Chris began training at Ñapinday in 2010, when Federico started the business.
“He’s really dedicated,” Federico said. “All the horses he has had are very successful, and go on to have very successful lives after him. He builds them up and educates them very well.”
Chris has had the opportunity to really focus on his own riding in the past year, even as he continues teaching the students and training the sale horses. Like many others, representing the United States in international competition would be a dream come true, but for now he hopes to be able to compete on the circuits in Europe.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic changed the course of 2020’s equestrian activities and put a damper on everyone’s show schedule, but Chris viewed it as a way to really check in with his horses, keeping them fit and ensuring they’re as happy as possible, which is a priority for him.
“I like for my horses to be really sound, with a really good training program, so that when I go to the shows I know they’re the happiest, most fit and strong selves they can be,” he explained. “I know a lot of people feel that way, but that’s a big thing for me!”
In truth, it’s Chris’ connection with the horses he rides that also provides the most challenging obstacle he faces — he really loves the horses he rides.
“I have a weakness which, as someone that makes a living developing and training horses to be sold, kind of works against me,” Chris said. “I don’t view them as just something to compete on. They’re more like my partners in crime.”
Returning to the Ring
As restrictions on traveling and competing continue to loosen, Chris hopes to get to show under the lights in Lexington, where they have what Chris considers some of the best footing and competition.
“I have a little bit of a casual, easygoing way, but when I’m actually showing and training, I get very competitive!” Chris said.
With a little extra time on his hands due to less competitions, Chris thinks he might try something new to go with the new normal: polo.
“It’s ridiculous that I’ve never tried polo; it’s so common in Wellington!” Chris laughed. “I don’t have great hand-to-eye coordination, but it looks really cool. I also think riding for a team would be neat.”
For more information, visit www.teamnapinday.com/
Photos by Isabel J. Kurek