Cover Story - Vol. 49, No.5AA, Issue #12
by MARY KIRKMAN
More than 40 years ago, as a young mother in San Francisco, Merrilee Lyons decided that riding horses in Golden Gate Park would be a nice activity to share with her daughter. She had no thoughts of a particular breed and certainly not of showing; it would be just a pleasant pastime.
Fast forward to the present.
Now, her stunning young stallion Turismo RA, who sports one of the most proven pedigrees in the industry and a list of titles that give him automatic credibility, is one of the hottest tickets for the U.S. National Championship in Junior Stallions.
It’s been quite a journey for both Merrilee, owner of Silver Stag Arabians LLC, and the horse she believes in.
Turismo’s record speaks for itself: he debuted as 2014 Region 12 Champion Colt and followed up as Buckeye Champion Stallion and Region 14 Champion 2-Year-Old Colt the next year. Then in 2016, he was named U.S. and Canadian National Champion Futurity Colt with Michael Byatt, and this year was Scottsdale and Region 14 Champion Stallion with David Boggs (Boggs will be on the lead at the Nationals). Undefeated, Turismo has enjoyed nearly unanimous affirmation from the judges he’s faced.
If anything, his pedigree is even more impressive; it bristles with national or world champions. Bred by Rojo Arabians, his heritage includes Trussardi, Marwan Al Shaqab, Gazal Al Shaqab (twice), and the U.S. National Champions Bey Fireeshah (mare halter) and Bint Miss Fire (English pleasure open). Throw in reserves and top tens such as Bey Shah, El Shaklan, and Precious As Gold, and the genetic potential is intense.
Turismo is not the first champion Merrilee Lyons has owned. He’s the one she selected herself, from a postage stamp-sized photo in a tiny ad. True, she had some experience with his bloodline; she enjoyed having his full brother, Truest, through the early stages of a campaign that would lead, after his sale, to dual U.S. National Championships. Cathy Vincent, Lyons’ longtime trainer and friend, remembers that as soon as Truest got on a plane to his new home, Merrilee sent her to Florida to check out the youngster she’d noticed in that little ad. So began a new adventure: Turismo came home to Vincent’s Adandy Farm, and everything they have seen since has confirmed their appreciation.
“He is the epitome of the combination of a ‘saddle horse’ and a beautiful halter horse,” Merrilee says. “In my eyes, every part goes together just the way it’s supposed to.”
That reflects her background, which began in performance (she rode for years, and as an owner fielded, among others, English national titlists The Firelord and Citationn). “I saw this horse working with ‘all four corners,’” she recalls of an early evaluation of Turismo. “He was using his legs, pushing with his hocks and lifting his knees, working easily, sound and happy.”
Beauty, however, has always been part of her paradigm. Before the purchase of her first Arabian, in the 1970s, she phrased what she wanted as “a beautiful horse.” A trip to Egypt and years of watching classes further refined her taste. Then there was Truest, and in 2017, her Canadian National Champion Mare, Edens Fantasy.
With Turismo, it all comes together. He has the classic beauty, and Merrilee points out that the balance and ease of his movement—added to his sweet-but-go-forward temperament—finish off the picture. “He seems to be very happy getting out there in front of the crowd,” she says. “Heknows exactly what to do when the gate opens.”
In the ring, the sparks are electric. “This horse puts his heart into everything he does,” Cathy Vincent observes. “If you’ve ever seen him show, you’d say ‘wow.’ He’s a hard-working young horse, he likes to please, he likes to show, and he likes to be proud. He gives it 1,000 percent.”
Merrilee Lyons has other horses, Cathy adds, and she cares deeply about all of them—but Turismo is special. “Anything she has needed to dedicate to this horse, she has. Her passion is the Arabian horse, but her love is Turismo. She loves him, adores him, and she’s a very strong, sharp, intelligent horsewoman.”
For Merrilee, Turismo represents the all-inclusive aspect of the breed that she loves—the beauty andthe physical capacity for performance. Already, she hears from “performance people” who watch him show, who speak of breeding to her “halter stallion.” She loves that he brings people together.
“I’m so blessed to own this horse,” Merrilee says simply, “and to have my dearest friend, Cathy, to help guide our pathway, as she does with my other horses. She helps them be the best they can be.”