By Sally Harrison
Sheila Dolin Welch, 76, an NCHA Non-Pro Hall of Fame inductee and wife of cutting legend Buster Welch, passed away on Sunday, December 7.
Born in Wolf Point, Montana, Sheila acquired a love of horses from her grandfather Dolin, an entrepreneur and newspaper publisher who served on the board the Wolf Point Stampede and counted Will Rogers and Charles Russell among his friends.
When she was 10, Sheilaâ€™s family moved to Fresno, Calif., where she won her first award on horseback, as a participant in the annual Christmas parade. Although she was competitive in tennis, volleyball and gymnastics as a girl, her natural instincts for riding led her to the California Rangerettes, where she participated as a drill team member for six years. During this time she also made forays into jumping, dressage, roping, cutting and gymkhana events, and was runner-up queen of the Salinas Rodeo.
After attending California State University at Fresno, Sheila married and helped her first husband operate a busy feedlot. At the time, she also found herself drawn away from other horse events and into cutting, which had only recently created a class for non-pro contenders.
Although her first cutting horse had been trained by famed West Coast horseman Jimmy Williams, Texas was the home of cutting horse competition and in 1966, Sheila traveled to the Lone Star State for a clinic given by Buster Welch, who would win his third NCHA Futurity that same year.
“I was awestruck,” Buster later said of his first impression of Sheila on horseback. “She could really ride a horse and she was sure pretty on one.” Seven months following the clinic, Sheila won the NCHA Non-Pro World Championship Finals, defeating B.F. Phillips, Jr., the Non-Pro World Champion.
Sheila and Buster married in 1972, and in addition to nurturing their combined families of six children (Nina and Dolin Morris, and Georgia, Greg, Ken and Ruth Ann Welch), Sheila became a top ranchhand, assisting Buster with his cattle operation and semi-annual roundups.
In 1974, Sheila and Buster moved to the King Ranch, where Buster had been hired as trainer, as well as consultant for the world famous ranch’s Quarter Horse program. It was during this time that Sheila came to know her cherished mentor and friend, Helen Groves, great-granddaughter of King Ranch founder Richard King.
In 1972 and 1978, Sheila ranked among NCHA’s Top Ten non-pro riders aboard Mr San Peppy and Peppy San Badger, respectively. In 1980, she won the NCHA Non-Pro World Champion on Doc O Leo and broke an all-time annual NCHA earnings record for open and non-pro riders, alike. She also set a record that year by winning all four go-rounds of the NCHA Non-Pro World Championship.
Sheila’s prestigious wins in â€ślimited ageâ€ť events include the NCHA Non-Pro Super Stakes, on Dolly Olena; the Augusta Futurity, on CD Chica San Badger; and the Memphis Futurity on Haidas Becky. With a record of more than $1 million, she is among cuttingâ€™s all-time leading money earners.
Rather than retire from competition when felled by a stroke in 1999, Sheila used riding as a tool for recovery. In May 2001, she made a triumphant return to the cutting arena by winning the reserve championship of the NCHA Non-Pro Gelding Stakes on Myhaida.
â€śWhen people ask me about my favorite win, I always tell them itâ€™s the last one because I might not have another,â€ť said Sheila, who has been featured in articles in Sports Illustrated, New York Magazine, Town & Country, and Texas Monthly.
As a cutting competitor, Sheila inspired men and women, alike. â€śYou watch Sheila,â€ť the late NCHA Futurity champion trainer Larry Reeder told fledgling rider Kathy Daughn. â€śThis lady can ride a cutting horse as pretty as anybody youâ€™ll ever see.â€ť
â€śSheila has been a great inspiration to me,â€ť said Daughn, who ranks as one of only two women (Lindy Burch, another admirer of Sheila Welch, is the other) among cuttingâ€™s top ten all-time professional money earners.
Reflecting several years ago on a life dedicated to family, horses and the Western tradition, Sheila said, â€śThe two things most difficult to find in life are a good husband and a good horse, and I was lucky to find both.â€ť
Arrangements for services are pending.