By Delores Kuhlwein
Growing up in California, Crysta Brown was bitten by the horse bug at an early age. Like many who find their families can’t support their horse habit, she began cleaning stalls to pay for her lessons as a teen, and that eventually led to her first assistant trainer gig.
“My mom was a very young mother, and one of her friends at church who had horses came alongside her as a mentor and support system. They started doing Bible study and going for trail rides and from the time I could walk, she started putting me in front of her in the saddle and taking me along with them,” Crysta explains. “That gave me the horse bug, then for my 5th birthday my grandma gifted me my first lessons at an APHA barn, and I really just never quit.”
When she was furloughed from her job at Disneyland in 2020 during COVID, fate led her to Karen Qualls’ barn, Premier Performance Horses. “In 2020, Karen was heading to a show with a big group of open horses as the owners were staying home due to Covid,” she says. “Karen called Jando Guerra looking for longeing and saddling help, which he knew I would be more than happy to do.”
They hit it off, and she worked for Karen part time from that point forward. “She has so graciously built me from longeing and saddling help to her “go-to” open rider for the Ranch classes, and a coach she can trust with clients of all levels.” Crysta says.
Then in 2022, Crysta met a sweet and handsome “an Irish fella” while he was working a car event in Napa Valley, California. After a couple times back and forth, they decided she should move to Ireland to be with Chris Thomas, who is now her fiancé.
A New Life in the UK
As one might imagine, adjusting to life in a new country was a bit daunting with the lifestyle change. Crysta says, “I miss the California weather every day and have been slowly learning how to drive on other side of the road!”
However, as horses tend to do for all horse lovers, they have helped her build bridges and settle in. “I feel so grateful for the stock horse community because once I got plugged into the horses, I started making friends and feeling at home,” she explains.
“Most folks are show jumpers or eventers and they keep their horses at home. Sometimes people will send it away for a month or two of training, but it would be very rare to leave a horse in full-time training,” she reveals.
“It’s been really interesting to see how a western training perspective has benefited my show jumping clients. I’ve been able to help a lot of people with problem behaviors along with building energy from behind and lightness up front.”
In addition, she says there’s a tremendous interest in western riding in the UK and Europe, but stock type horses and western trainers are at a minimum. “I did buy my AQHA mare “In A Blue Moon” a few months ago and I’m bringing her along for the all-around events,” Crysta says, “as well as my youth kid, Niamh Fitzpatrick, bought her first western horse, “Face To Face,” who we are preparing for the ranch classes.”
She has also reciprocated by doing a bit of jumping herself, just for fun, and has built a wonderful client base. “I was gifted an amazing Christmas gift from my lovely clients to a riding weekend at Castle Leslie. Western saddle and all, we rode all over the castle grounds, and it was like being in a fairytale.” Crystal also recently received special recognition at the Northern Ireland Equine Awards.
Meanwhile, she has continued to fly back to the U.S. for assistant training work, and in 2023, she did so eight separate times!
Growing the Stock Horse Community and Creating Bridges
At the moment, she says her “main focus is our teams for the APHA Youth World Games,” which is hosted at the APHA World Championship Show in Fort Worth, Texas. Crysta is donating horses and team trainings to the Irish and UK teams to help them prepare for their competition.
Each country can enter three to five AjPHA members, and the team enters one member each in showmanship horsemanship, equitation, and ranch riding. Horses are donated for the competition, and exhibitors randomly draw their mounts; all the fun will take place June 21-28, 2024.
Above all, she says they are really looking forward to the opportunity to build interest in the sport and continue to grow the stock horse community in the UK and Ireland. “Also, keep a look out as we build our breeding program to produce top quality AQHA and APHA horse for Northern Ireland!” she says.
Good luck to Crysta, her teams, and all the teams at this year’s games! Learn more about the APHA Youth World Games: