Amy’s road to success includes her journey back to the barn
PHOTOS BY Rich Pomerantz
Published Spring 2013
When Amy Nauiokas was a little girl living in a small, semi-rural Connecticut town, a white horse used to occasionally wander onto her family’s property. “I guess that’s when I first wanted to own a horse,” recalls Amy now. “Our neighbor’s horse would stop by and lick our front door, and so I thought it would be fun to have one. My family wasn’t wealthy and they know that I never do things halfway, so my parents quickly steered me toward other hobbies.”
Amy didn’t end up buying her first horse, a Dutch Warmblood named Pandoer, until 2006. Four years later, she bought the Washington Equestrian Center, a pristine facility on 75 acres in Litchfield County, Connecticut. She decided to turn the former dressage barn into a sales/training/boarding business. First she hired trainer Nikka Therrien. Then, on the barn’s opening weekend, the two women hosted a two-day clinic with Frank Madden, one of America’s top trainers. Riders came from as far away as Florida and Vermont to attend. Because, as her family knew, Amy doesn’t do anything halfway.
I recently chatted with Amy in the cozy office of the Washington Equestrian Center, or WEC, as it’s known to those who ride there. She was playing hooky from the annual Golden Globes ceremony, which was taking place that night in Los Angeles. She and her husband, Harry Harrison, had decided not to go, preferring instead to spend the weekend with their two young sons and their beloved horses at their favorite getaway home in Connecticut.
Amy and her husband purchased the country house in 2007. She described the original condition of the home as a brilliant blank canvas — providing her the chance to prove to herself that she still had the same passion and interior design skills she had before spending 20 years on Wall Street. The proof that her talent is very much intact, is visible throughout the house.
Two days after our visit, Amy would be heading off to the Sundance Film Festival for the premier of the film The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, which was co-produced by her Archer Gray Productions. Scored by Alicia Keys and starring Jennifer Hudson, the film has already received great early press.
Research, risk, and the good fortune of luck
It was only three years ago that Amy made the switch from the finance world to the entertainment world, and almost instantly she found as much success producing theater, film, and television projects, as she had in her previous endeavors in the business world. Her first theater production was the critically acclaimed Broadway hit Seminar, starring Alan Rickman. This was followed by the musical Once, which received eight Tony awards. I asked Amy if she attributed her great early success in the entertainment business to intelligence or to luck. She replied that she’s just always been a risk-taker, but that she educates herself and takes well-informed risks. She does her homework. and, she added, rather wistfully, she’s been lucky as well.
An example of her luck occurred one night during her high school years. Amy was in the backseat of a car filled with teenagers. For some reason she decided to fasten her seatbelt — something she didn’t normally do while out with friends. The car was involved in a horrible accident, and though she broke her back, Amy was told she would have died, had she not put on that seatbelt.
In September, 2001, Amy was Senior Managing Director and Partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, whose offices were in the World Trade Center. On the morning of September 11, she awoke at her regular time, but instead of jumping out of bed as she usually did, she lay there and dozed for an extra fifteen minutes — something she had never done. Those fifteen minutes saved her life. By the time she was on her way to the office, the first of the terrorists’ planes had struck and many of her coworkers and closest friends had been killed. Amy proved critical in rebuilding the company after the attacks. In addition to running global marketing, business development and investor relations, she directed human resources for the firm.
The intensity with which she worked was her way of coping with the huge trauma of the losses she had experienced, and it wasn’t until 2004, when she moved to London to join Barclay’s Stockbrokers, that she was suddenly hit by the stress of what she had been through. She then experienced a period of profound grief.
“As lucky as you feel to be alive,” she explains, “you appreciate that others weren’t as lucky. The survivor guilt is incredible.” It was during this time in England that she began riding horses. “Riding is one of the only things that can quiet my mind,” says Amy. “I love that.”
And now, with the help of trainer Nikka Therrien, Amy has decided to turn the Washington Equestrian Center into a place where others can find peace and harmony with their horses.
Nikka grew up in Northern Quebec, and though riding was always her first love, it was her modeling career that first brought her to the U.S. in her early 20s. Soon, however, she was training with Michael Matz, Kathy Kusner, and Todd Minikus among others, and showing horses became more interesting to her than showing upcoming fashion trends.
“My first love is riding,” she says now, in her lovely French Canadian accent. “I still have the fire and joy of walking into the barn and being greeted every day by these majestic animals. I do this because of my love of the animal and the sport. I love show jumping; the bigger the jumps, the more fun! I am a nerd of the circuit and follow what’s going on at most major competitions daily. Buying and selecting horses for clients is a fantastic feeling. To find the perfect match is like making something magical happen every time. Horses have been good to me, and I will always be good to them.”
While the Washington Equestrian Center is currently thriving as a boarding/training/sales facility, Amy — who always likes to think outside the box — has some great plans for its future. Because riding and horses have offered her such a sanctuary from the stresses of her life and career, she’d like WEC to offer the same to others. “I’m very much into yoga and would like to think of ways to combine riding and yoga — they’re both so therapeutic — perhaps with workshops and clinics. We’ll see.” We can’t wait to see, because it seems to us, whether through luck or smarts or both, everything Amy Nauiokas touches turns to gold.
Ann Leary is a New York Times best-selling author. She has published three books, a memoir, An Innocent, a Broad, and two novels, Outtakes from a Marriage and the recently released The Good House. Visit Ann’s blog: www.annleary.com
MY FAVORITE HORSE is Pandoer, my 15 year old Dutch Warm Blood and my very first horse. He spent 3 years in semi-retirement due to to a condition that left him visually impaired, but when we moved him “home” to our barn last fall, he made a miraculous recovery and is back to his old self! A true champion and still the only horse I’ve ever met that would cuddle in bed with you if you let him!
MY FAVORITE RIDING CLOTHES. I’m a fan of Ariat. very comfy for all sorts of terrain and my boots are Vogel, custom made for my narrow feet.
MY FAVORITE CAR. My vintage Land Rover Defender — it can’t pull a trailer but I love feeling like I’m on safari when I drive it!
MY FAVORITE SADDLE. I’m a huge fan of Voltaire. They have done all of our saddles lately. My particular favorite is the teeny tiny one they did for my little guy, Archie.
MY FAVORITE CHARITY. The Bubble foundation is a not-for-profit that I co-founded in 2010. Bubble is dedicated to providing underserved children in New York City with access to activities and food that result in healthier and happier lives. In partnership with charter schools that share this mission, we design free nutrition and fitness programs that complement and expand on the school’s current efforts, filling in gaps left by lack of funding, resources, or sometimes information. Through fun activities, learning adventures, and food programs, we provide the foundation for building a lifetime of knowledge. www.welcometobubble.org
MY FAVORITE HANGOUT. Anywhere at our house in Connecticut. I really love the back patio and the pool, looking into the fields and watching the kids being kids — running to grandma and grandpa’s or playing on the swings.
MY FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOOD is definitely Tribeca, where we live. It still has such a neighborhood feel. The market All Good Things on Franklin Street is one of my new favorite local hangouts — one stop shop for amazing flowers, groceries and cheese!
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT. So many choices but I’ve got to go with my all time favorite New York City spot, Blue Ribbon on Sullivan Street. Always great food, atmosphere and service. And in Connecticut, Community Table is tops!
MY FAVORITE BLOG is Amy Chaplin’s Coconut & Quinoa
MY FAVORITE HORSE STORY. Probably the Black Stallion. It may have been one of the first movies I saw in a theater — For years, riding a horse on the beach was my biggest dream.
MY FAVORITE APP is Hipstamatic
MY FAVORITE HOTEL. The Covent Garden Hotel in London. Traditional English with a modern twist. And room 101 has the biggest bed in all of Europe!
MY FAVORITE HORSE VENUE is the Grand Palais in Paris France — Horses were meant to be in that place and it is so wonderful to see them back there!