We are forgiven for perhaps not knowing that Ireland just came fifth in the American Paint Horse Association (APHA) Youth World Games in Fort Worth, Texas.

That’s because, as it happens, this is the very first time Ireland (and the UK who placed 7th, coached by Donald Beard) has had a team represented. Ireland also achieved Reserve Champions in Horsemanship and Equitation.

Coaching Ireland and taking the teams to Texas was California-born Crysta Brown who grew up showing American Paint Horses. She has since moved to Northern Ireland, home of her fiancé Christopher Thomas.

“I knew I wanted to get involved with the Western and Stock horse community. I am blessed that my first clients here in Northern Ireland, the Fitzpatrick’s, opened up their property to me so I had a place to train in Lisburn. We got a couple of APHA and American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) horses and we were off and running.”

Perfect opportunity

Crysta says in February, she saw APHA advertise this year’s Youth World Games which were to be held in Fort Worth in conjunction with the World Championship Show.

“I knew it would be the perfect way to get new individuals involved in riding stock horses competitively. Not only would they be right there to watch some of the nicest Paint horses in the world but the excitement of competition would motivate them to grow as riders.

“To be honest, all we did was put a date for try-outs up on Facebook and the rest is history. The only downside is with so many high level American and Canadian riders competing for the World Championship Show, I knew our kids were up against stiff competition with only four months to prep.”

Team Ireland L to R: Niamh Fitzpatrick, Chika Donohoe, Charlotte Doyle.

According to Christa, the main bulk of western riding and showing starts were with the breed associations, American Paint Horse and American Quarter Horse. These horses are known for their versatility and she finds many people are surprised to learn the associations hold English classes as well.

“The English Equitation, Hunter Over Fences, and Hunter Under Saddle are very popular with full AQHA and APHA horses standing over 17 hands sometimes,” she explains.

“In addition to that, we have Ranch Riding which would demonstrate a handy horse that you could ride all day long out ranching. All-Around classes are a bit more showy with classes like trail with obstacles and poles, and horsemanship, which is judged on the rider's form and effectiveness through a pattern.”

Getting involved

Like a lot of trainers, Crysta was a horse crazy kid, but her family, though supportive, couldn’t financially back her interests.

“I had a great trainer as a youth who let me trade stall cleaning and lunging for my riding lessons. And of course, as these things go, it slowly rolled into riding a couple of the young horses, and helping with a lesson here and there, until I was a full-on assistant trainer.

“In 2020, Karen Qualls (seven-time APHA High Point Open Exhibitor) needed extra show help. We ended up getting in touch which gave me a big break in riding and showing really nice horses at some of the biggest shows in the US. As a youth, I earned some California state titles – I was top five at Pinto World in Youth Solid Horse Hunter Under Saddle, but more recently, I earned the National Honor Roll titles in Pole Bending and Stake Race (tied for Barrel Racing) with my horse Call Him Sensational, and was High Point Open Horse with him at the Zone 1 show, both in 2023.”

Crysta Brown winner at the 2023 High Point Open House.

Irish horses excel

If you have an interest in Western, you don’t have to have a Paint or Quarter Horse to get involved, “The more I work with show jumpers in Ireland, the more I’ve been surprised at how good the Western style is for them,” reveals Crysta.

“In our training programmes, we do a lot of groundwork and preparation with our horses and I found it can be really helpful for problem-solving with some of the traditional horses.

“Now, in the same breath, I might say you can be a lot more competitive with a horse that’s built for the job. But the principles of Western are the same as for any sport – we want a correct horse, free of resistance, carrying itself in a way that will improve his strength and livelihood. All horses can benefit from that!”

“I really hope folks aren’t nervous to try something new. I have some great lesson horses available, and even if you just have simple questions about how to put a Western saddle on or if a stock type horse could be a fit for traditional riding, I am always happy to chat about my sport and the horses I love. For the more competitive folks, I would love to see Ireland start leading the industry with youths and amateur riders. I’m really looking to take on more competitive horses for the major shows.”

Contact Crysta through her Facebook page or chat to Helena Ryan, the APHA State Director, for more information.