The Western performance horse world lost one of its most influential figures when Buster Welch, one of the founders of the sport of cutting, passed away Sunday, June 12, in Abilene, Texas.
A 5-time winner of the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity, Welch was associated with some of the all-time great horses in the sport. He trained Mr San Peppy for the King Ranch, and rode the stallion’s son, Peppy San Badger, into the history books.
Welch’s association with Peppy San Badger, who went on to become one of the greatest sires in the Western performance horse world, are honored with a statue at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The larger-than-life statue features Welch riding “Little Peppy” and cutting a Santa Gertrudis cow, a breed developed by the King Ranch.
Though his official career tally came in at an impressive $1.7 million in lifetime earnings, Welch’s achievements in the sport of cutting and his influence in ranching transcended the amount of money on his show record.
One of ten men who pitched in to underwrite the first NCHA Futurity, Welch won the first edition of the show in 1962 with Money’s Glo. He won it again in 1963 with Chickasha Glo; in 1966 with Rey Jay’s Pete; in 1971 with Dry Doc and in 1977 with Peppy San Badger.
He won his first NCHA Open World Championship Marions Girl in 1954 and another in 1956. He would go on to win two more NCHA Open World titles with Mr San Peppy.
“He’s one-of-a-kind,” Welch’s fellow NCHA Futurity Open Champion Lindy Burch told Quarter Horse News in a cover story about Buster in the 2022 QHN Spring Edition. “I don’t think we’ve seen anybody else who’s had the depth and ability that Buster represented in our world.”
One of the last times a large audience got to see Welch cut in competition was in 2011, when he rode NCHA Open World Champion Bet Hesa Cat in the Champion’s Cup. The then-83-year-old showman and stallion marked a 221, getting a standing ovation and making an impact on those in attendance at the event held in conjunction with that year’s NCHA Futurity.
“Grown men, tough horse trainers, cowboys … I mean, everybody got a little choked up watching him show a horse,” Bet Hesa Cat’s appreciative trainer, Austin Shepard, told QHN earlier this year. “For me, it was like watching Babe Ruth hit a home run with my bat.
“When everybody else was scared, he liked the challenge. For him to go down there and show us how — that’s just as Buster Welch as it gets.”
Welch’s contributions to the cutting horse, ranching and Western way of life were recognized far and wide. He was a member of the NCHA Members Hall of Fame and the NCHA Riders Hall of Fame. He also is in the American Quarter Association Horse Hall of Fame and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and also was honored with several awards.
Some of the accolades include the National Golden Spur Award, Foy Proctor Memorial Cowman’s Award, Zane Schulte Award, Charles Goodnight Award, Western Horseman Award and the Trail Blazers Award.
Graveside services for Welch will be held at 9 a.m., Wednesday, June 15 at Cottonwood Flats Cemetery in Scurry County, Texas. A memorial services will be held at a later date.
Arrangements are being handled by Hamil Family Funeral Home of Abilene, Texas.
Officials say in lieu of flowers, donations in Welch’s honor can be directed to the NCHA Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas, or the Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas.