* Photo by Ross Hecox

Center Ranch’s Finis Welch Dies

World-renowned economist and a force in the cutting horse breeding business, Finis Welch, has died. He passed away Monday, Aug. 24, at the age of 82.

Welch, a business consultant and former professor, owned and bred horses through Center Ranch for many years. At the time of his death, Center Ranch-bred horses whose names were emblazoned with its familiar “CR” initials had earned more than $3 million — including a winner of the prestigious National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity.  

Officials say a memorial service will be held at a later date.


The last of 13 children, Welch was an active member of the local FFA and 4-H chapters. He raised and successfully showed various livestock, including sheep, turkeys, chickens and cattle.

It was on his way to an FFA-related television appearance in 1956 that he was severely injured in a car accident; his vehicle crashed in the early morning into a truck that had broken down in the middle of the road.

Though told he would never walk, Welch lifted weights and used crutches and braces. Determination and aggressive therapy helped him stay out of a wheelchair for many years.

Influential Economist

A graduate of Pasadena High School in Texas, Welch earned his doctoral degree at the University of Chicago. He was a distinguished Professor Emeritus of economics at Texas A&M University and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). 

His achievements in labor economics earned him the prestigious Jacob Mincer Award in 2007, and he was elected vice president of the American Economic Association in 2002.

In addition, Welch was a co-founder of StataCorp LLC, the firm that develops Stata, the statistical software for data scientists that is used worldwide.  

At the time of his death, he was president of Welch Consulting, a business he founded that conducts economic research and analysis in labor and employment issues. It has offices in Bryan, Texas, as well as in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Cutting Horses

Horses entered the picture after Welch moved back to Texas to be near an aging sister. He bought 130 acres near Centerville for a place to stay, and wound up teaching part time at Texas A&M University, while also teaching at the time at UCLA.

The first cutting horse in the family may be the one bought by his late son, Sam, who had an interest in ranching and roping. Welch told Quarter Horse News in 2011 that Sam bought a cutting horse on monthly payments from nearby trainer Ronnie Nettles and would ride it each week.

After Sam was killed in an auto crash, his father continued to nurture the ranching dream at the property in Centerville. However, high-caliber cutting horses didn’t enter the picture until Welch went to watch his veterinarian’s horse compete under Bill Freeman in the 1999 NCHA Futurity Open semifinals. He stayed for the sale, buying a Playgun stallion and High Brow Hickory mare for use on his ranch.

Welch really got hooked on the sport in 2001, when he watched Ronnie Rice win the Futurity Open Championship with San Tule Freckles, and Ronnie’s son, Tag, earn Reserve with Mr Beamon.

“It was amazing,” Welch told Quarter Horse News in a 2011 profile. “I was hooked and completely hoarse by the time that thing was over. I had screamed my head off.”

Welch later bought his first cutting horse, CR Cats Meow, and the Center Ranch cutting legacy began.

Center Ranch Success

Center Ranch’s first money-earning cutting horse was registered in the Equi-Stat database in 2004, when Ronnie Rice rode CR Cats Meow to the NCHA Super Stakes Open semifinals. The daughter of High Brow Cat was that year’s Breeder’s Invitational Derby Open Reserve Champion and earned a total of $31,516 before joining the ranch’s broodmare band.

She went on to produce one of the ranch’s top-earning horses, CR Tuff Hearted Cat, the 2012 NCHA Futurity Open Co-Champion whose $276,864 in lifetime earnings ranks second only to NCHA Horse Hall of Fame member CR Sun Reys ($370,627) on the ranch’s owner record.

In total, Center Ranch has owned the winners of more than $2.7 million.

CR Sun Reys was Center Ranch’s top money-earning horse as an owner with earnings of $370,627. The NCHA Horse Hall of Fame inductee won many titles, including the 2014 NCHA World Finals Show Championship in Fort Worth, where she and Boyd Rice marked a 233 in the final go-round. • Hart Photos

The premier stallion at Center Ranch is Woody Be Tuff, a son of Nitas Wood who earned $351,063. The 19-year-old Quarter Horse — who, notably, has proven to be a successful outcross in the cutting industry — has so far sired the earners of more than $5.4 million with winners in cutting, reined cow horse, ranch events and other disciplines.   

The stallion’s highest earners — both bred by Center Ranch — are 2015 NCHA Summer Spectacular Derby Open Reserve Champion CR Tuff Lucy ($381,757) and CR Tuff Hearted Cat ($276,864).

NCHA Futurity Open Co-Champion CR Tuff Hearted Cat was a Center Ranch homebred in every sense of the word. The mare, ridden by Ronnie Rice, was by the ranch’s stallion Woody Be Tuff and out of CR Cats Meow — the first cutting horse owner Finis Welch bought. • Hart Photos

In addition to Woody Be Tuff, Center Ranch also stands CR Highlight. The 2011 son of cutting’s all-time leading sire, High Brow Cat, earned $48,890 in the show pen with performances that included making the Open finals of the NCHA Futurity and Breeder’s Invitational with Boyd Rice. His first foals were registered with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in 2017.

Center Ranch grew over the years to encompass more than 10,000 acres and includes an equine veterinary center. In addition to cutting horses, Center Ranch produces hay and cattle.

Finis Welch’s Legacy

Welch is the founder and sole benefactor of the Finis Welch Foundation. The foundation reflects his lifelong commitment to education and provides scholarships to high-achieving students who attend public universities in Texas.  

He is survived by his two daughters: Melissa Lea Welch and Marci Lynn Welch, both of Dallas. He was preceded in death by his son, Samuel Oliver Welch, who died in a car crash at the age of 21 in 1993.