“I’ve always been a really shy person, so it was a big thing for me to do the open mike and go to the Cowtown Opry,” she says. “But everyone was friendly, and all these people were doing the kind of music I like. I kept going back.”

That’s when Devon Dawson, who has mentored young performers through the Cowtown Opry’s Buckaroo Club since 1996, met Harris. Dawson was immediately impressed with the young performer’s talent and single-mindedness.

“She just seemed to have a real determination,” Dawson recalls. “Kristyn was unique in that she had not had formal instruction. She just had a passion to learn.”

Dawson encouraged Harris with both her music and her stage presence, but says what stands out about the singer is her authenticity.

“There is something sweet about her spirit,” she says. “There is nothing fake about her. She’s a cowgirl and she doesn’t have to prove it; she just is. She’s learned to come out of her shell and developed confidence. But she does not realize how good she is. I would say the sky’s the limit for her.”

Harris seems to have no inclination to drift toward country music, she adds.

“Western music and cowboy gathering is a small pond,” says Dawson, who was named the Academy of Western Artists Female Performer of the Year in 2009. “Kristyn has been encouraged to do country music because it’s a bigger pond, but she doesn’t want to. It’s not because she feels like she has to stay in a small pond to be a big fish. It’s because she’s a Westerner. She is who she appears to be.”

Part of Harris’ connection to Western music is through her horses. Although no one else in her family is a horseman, she says she always wanted a horse. She got her first—a barrel racing gelding with a propensity to bolt and buck—when she was 11.

Although touring keeps her busy, Harris enjoys riding Velvet and working with her 2-year-old Mustang when she is home. Photo by Ross Hecox

“He was the horse that taught me how to ride,” she says.

As with her music, Harris learned horsemanship through self-study.

“I read a lot of books and got involved with 4-H,” she says. “A couple of years after I got my horse, I talked my parents into letting me adopt a Mustang.

“I got Velvet for $125 at an auction, and took my time training her. I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing, but my first horse taught me a lot, and she taught me a lot. I read and got perspectives from various trainers—Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, John Lyons, Pat Parelli, Buck Brannaman—and kind of combined from them all of the things I thought worked and things I wanted from my horses. Velvet is really smart and learned fast. She’s come a long way.”

In 2011, Harris rode Velvet into the middle of the arena at the Mustang Makeover in Fort Worth, Texas, and sang the National Anthem. In 2012, she returned to the event to compete with a yearling gelding she adopted and named Corduroy. While they didn’t win anything, Harris says she was proud of her horse and looks forward to riding him in the future.

Her horses also inspire her music, she says.

“I’ve written one song called ‘What a Horse Has Gotta Do.’ There’s another one, ‘The Horse Nobody Could Ride,’ that I like to sing. It’s about taming a wild horse,” she says. “I recorded one on my album called ‘Guardian Angel,’ which is a sweet waltz about an older horse. All three of those songs are on my new album.

Photo by Ross Hecox

“Lots of my songs mention horses or riding. I’m picky. I won’t sing just anything that someone else thinks I should sing if I don’t feel like it’s me. I choose songs that are special to me or that I can identify with.”

Her debut CD, My Mustang, My Martin and Me, was not done in a studio setting. But last year, Harris had the opportunity to work with producers Rich O’Brien, a Western Music Association Hall of Fame member, and Aarom Meador in their Burleson, Texas, studio to create Let Me Ride. The 12-song CD includes some of her favorite cowboy songs and a few original compositions.

“It’s a collection of songs that I really like,” Harris says. Like the horses, she adds, music has been “one big learning curve.”

Harris says she doesn’t know what the future holds.

“I’m enjoying what I do and I’m not sure what my career will be,” she says. “Two things I like to do are horses and music, and that’s all I really know. So I’m hoping it will be one of those things.”

Article originally published in the April 2013 issue of Western Horseman.

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