Crystal Lyons and Strider: A perfect partnership |

Crystal Lyons and Strider: A perfect partnership

Years can go by with lots of satisfying work in the rear view mirror. But then that perfect partnership comes along and everything before seems merely adequate.

Crystal Lyons knows and lives that wisdom. She has a Christian ministry, relishing her God-given boldness to be who He calls her to be. And that goes for atop a horse, too. The former bull rider — who climbed aboard her first bucking bovine at age 30 — turned-Western singer performs on horseback, from where she entertains at rodeos, fairs and other venues.

Lyons had always had Quarter Horses and Paints but several years ago decided to shake things up a bit. She went seeking a classy-looking mount, but it couldn’t be too fast or quick a mover, as she sings while loping around arenas. So, she virtually ruled out her two formerly-favored breeds.

A logical place to view lots and lots of horses without spending lots and lots of gas money is online, so… Click. And there he was, the big flashy dream horse she’d eventually call “Strider.”

“I stumbled onto Strider on the Internet. And, scraping up every cent I could get my hands on, I drove from Texas to Florida to check him out,” Lyons said. “I took a chance and bought him without even riding him! He had a ‘big as Texas’ personality.”

Strider, registered as GG King’s Charmer, was then a 4-year-old stallion. Certainly Lyons had strayed more than a Texas-sized mile or two from customarily Western breeds because the enormous but elegant tobiano pinto is a Gypsy Vanner.

Those who’ve never heard of the breed needn’t feel alone because it originated with the Gypsies of Great Britain.

Selectively bred for more than half a century to create a perfect horse to pull colorful Gypsy caravans (wagons), the animals only arrived in North America in 1996. The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society was established as its registry and the previously unnamed breed has since been called the Gypsy Vanner Horse. (Vanner, as in caraVAN).


Gypsy caravans are basically houses on wheels; kind of like motor homes but pulled by horse rather than motorized horsepower. They carry large Gypsy families and every possession they own.

According to the registry’s website, their breed is often referred to as a “people-sized” draft horse. Genetically speaking, its ancestors include Shires, Clydesdales, and native British ponies like the Dales.

Characteristics vary but the majority of individuals stand 14-15 hands high (56-60 inches at the withers); colors range from solid to tobiano to splash; abundant feathering flows from behind knees and hocks; mane and tail are long and free-flowing.

Temperament is “friendly and engaging,” continues the website description. And, because the breed was designed to pull Gypsy wagons, Vanners are now used in all disciplines. They are, of course, driven (carts and carriages). Vanners equally excel in dressage, over fences, and as western pleasure horses. An unflappable nature makes this breed a popular trail horse, therapy mount and general family horse.

When the breed registry was first established on this continent, so were three separate height classifications (but with identical standards).

• Mini Vanner: under 14 hands

• Classic Vanner: 14 hands up to but not including 15.2 hands

• Grand Vanner: 15.2 hands and taller

Since 2006, states the registry website, all horses registered in the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society are called Gypsy Vanners, with no size classifications.

Standing 16.1 hands high, that would have made Strider a Gypsy Vanner Grand. And oh, how grand he is! So grand, in fact, that Lyons has not only performed on the big beauty for the past seven years but also stands him at stud. Plus, she and Strider work cattle.

Wait, what? Cattle? Quarter Horses, cover your alert little ears! Strider loves cattle. Well, he loves to chase them.

“He’s real cowy, loves to bite them,” Lyons said. “He has a very good mind.”

When she purchased him as a replacement for former mounts, she wondered if she’d made the right decision. She quickly found out.

“I didn’t know what I’d have to give up with him,” the 63-year-old versatile rider admitted, happily adding, “Nothing!”


On Sunday, Aug. 11, Lyons travelled from her Brady, Texas, home to Fort Collins, Colo., to share her teaching with members of Laporte Outreach Church. Pastor Dee Highland was delighted that she’d accepted his invitation, and Lyons was blessed to speak words that God put in her heart. Her only regret was that she couldn’t bring Strider along to meet the congregation, as he was stabled a few dozen miles east awaiting her return for a rodeo performance in Greeley, Colo.

As she stepped towards the church’s microphone, Lyons certainly didn’t look the part of a cattle driving, former bull riding, Western performer who charges around arenas on a steed fit for medieval knights of old.

She wore a frilly white dress and (3-inch high?) heels. Friends from the Cowboy Church in Eaton, Colo., who’d accompanied her to Laporte Outreach, smiled as welcoming applause greeted Lyons.

Then one of them glanced down at her shoes and quipped, as only a good friend can get away with, “‘Ya don’t look good unless your feet hurt!”

Pastor Dee, as he goes by, introduced her after the service to church members and visitors alike. He said that his congregation shares Lyons’ scriptural insights and that she worded them perfectly.

Many people asked questions about Strider, including one little boy about 3 years old. Rather than politely responding or shaking hands, as she did with the adults, Lyons scooped the little guy up in her arms and gave him a big hug. A mother to grown sons of her own, she knows that sometimes even little cowboys need some personal, one-on-one attention!

Visit Crystal Lyons at Or, contact her at Crystal Lyons Ministries, P.O. Box 671, Brady, TX 76825. ❖

— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at

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