Buster Welch was not the only talented cutting horse trainer in his day but his knack for young horses was what set him apart.
“It’s like cooking a dish. It’s never one thing that makes it better. It’s about 50 things at the right time. What Buster had more than anything, he had feel. He had so much feel and so much cow,” trainer and friend, Kory Pounds said.
“When he was working a horse he wasn’t thinking he was going to present it to a judge… He thought everything he did with a cow and a horse was just [ranch work], that’s how his idea of the round pen came about… It was whatever the cow did, the horse did. That was his thought process,” said Pounds.
Pounds was working for a rodeo outfit when a friend mentioned he knew of a cutting horse trainer that needed some help. That trainer was Welch who hired Pounds to help him work cutting horses in the morning and ranch in the evenings.
For many years, Pounds would go to Welch’s ranch regularly and help with anything Welch needed. Three weeks before Welch’s passing on June 12, 2022, Pounds was at the ranch at Welch’s request.
“Back in the day, Buster was just a fish in the pond with the rest of them. Don Dodge won the world more than Buster did back then. There were several of them that were really good. Where Buster really kicked in was when it started going into the younger horses. Jack Newton, who Buster had huge respect for, was the first one to say something about having that futurity. That’s what separated him from the rest of the guys,” Pounds said.
Welch was instrumental in starting the first NCHA Futurity in 1962 in Sweetwater, TX.
It’s one thing to show and tune an open horse but it’s another to train a young horse. The young horse and futurity horses are where he shone the most.
“He was the only one that evolved… to still win and dominate for a good amount of time,” once the futurity classes became a part of cutting Pounds said.
Ascencion Banuelos had always wanted to meet and learn from Welch. One day, he got the opportunity to do just that. Banuelos had a Little Peppy mare that Welch’s wife Sheila fell in love with. At the time Welch could only ride Little Peppy-bred horses due to a contract with the King Ranch. After some back and forth, Banuelos convinced the owner to sell the horse to Welch.
Feeling a little bad about taking Banuelos’s best horse, Welch offered to have Banuelos come spend some time with him to learn and prepare for the NCHA Futurity. Banuelos showed up and outworked everyone, impressing Welch.
“He put the time on me, let me tell you!” Banuelos recalled.
“We became best friends and I didn’t speak very good English and he didn’t speak very good Spanish. We’d just talk and smile. I learned so much from that man,” Banuelos said.
Pounds agreed and said it’s hard to put into words what knowing Welch was like.
“He was such a brilliant person. He was very intellectual… The horse training was as simple as two plus two math to him. It wasn’t a philosophy, it wasn’t a theory. It was simple. The level of intelligence was second to none,” Pounds said.
Banuelos and Welch both made the Futurity finals in 1986. They were 11th and 12th, respectively, that year.
Banuelos offered to come work for Welch but was advised to just stick with the job he had and come work with Welch when he could.
“It taught me a lot about the business and how to prepare horses to show,” Banuelos said.
“He was not a horse trainer. He was a horseman. He understood every horse. He was such a gentleman. He could work with rich people, poor people. He was very easy to take a lesson from. He was not hollering and carrying on. He let you make all the mistakes and then we’d talk about it in a real quiet, classy way,” Banuelos said.
“If you got a little down he would say ‘Well son, the first 20 years you’re going to go through a little hell and then it gets better. Don’t expect it to be tomorrow,’” Banuelos remembered with a laugh, “he had an answer for everything. He was a horseman and an awesome person that knew how to teach,” Banuelos said.
Welch never acted like he was better than everyone Banuelos said. He treated everyone the same.
“It means everything [to have been around him]… If I wouldn’t have spent the time around him and learned how easy it is to train a horse, I don’t know that I would have ever made it. Because most of us trying to train that horse, they bring you a horse to train and you think oh I got it, and I didn’t have s***,” Banuelos said.
Pounds said what meant the most to him about his time with Welch was the family time they had. Pounds’ children were almost raised out there since they went to the ranch in Abilene four times a year. Welch gave both of Pound’s sons heifers when they were born.
“The way he treated my family was second to none,” Pounds said.
The greatest advice Pounds ever got came from Welch who once told him, “A pig will only get fat so quick.”
Pounds said that it referred to “[Getting] a two year old doing a lot. To have a three that’s ready to go show that’s mature mentally. The benefit of the hours and miles outside far outweighs the amount of horse training and breaking you did the first year. Guys would debate me on that. But what it boils down to is, whoever has the best horse is going to do the best,” Pounds said.
To this day, Pounds spends time with his colts in the pasture, something Welch did so much of.
Banuelos said a lot of people don’t train a cow horse anymore. They just train a horse to cut.
“They don’t even need cows. They can train them on the flag. [My son Adan and I] don’t do any of that and that is one of the main things I learned from Buster,” Banuelos said.
“[Welch] let the cow mean everything and if the horse wasn’t right, he helped. He was so fast with his hands and his feet the horse didn’t know he did it. The horse’s mind was still on the cow,” Banuelos said.
“What I learned from him was that he was not a trainer. The cow will train your horse and you’re going to be a coach about position, balance and the rest of it. He didn’t take a horse and say you’re going to do this. He put the cow in front of them and let the cow tell [the horse] and let the cow stop them. He was there to help that horse but he never took over and took it away from that cow to do anything,” Banuelos said.
By Sophia Skeith
Brought to you by PulseVet