On Saturday, November 26, in the NCHA Futurity Champions Cup at Fort Worth’s Will Rogers Coliseum, 83-year-old Buster Welch will ride to the herd once again, this time on 2011 NCHA World champion Bet Hesa Cat.
“It’s an unbelievable honor,” said Austin Shepard, 34, of the opportunity to provide Welch with a mount for the Champions Cup, a one-time event for former NCHA Futurity open champions, on the occasion of the Futurity’s 50th anniversary. “There are so many people in our business today that have never seen him cut a cow.
“When you talk about important people in cutting, Buster’s name always comes up first. He revolutionized the sport from the round pen for training to the type of saddles and bridles we use to the breeding of the horses. Everything we do today goes back to him.
“He’s still amazing. He worked Bet Hesa Cat twice. The first time was about a week ago and I was a little nervous because he is in his eighties. I was thinking that we were just going to piddle around, but the first chance he gets, he takes off after a cow that runs. He hasn’t lost a lick of feel for what that horse is doing.”
Welch won the first two NCHA Futurities, but his love of the sport is rooted in stories of revered horses passed down to him as a child growing up in West Texas, at a time when cutting horses were still necessary for handling large herds of cattle.
“I think a cutting horse comes nearest to keeping the spirit and feel of the open range of anything we do on horseback today,” says Welch.
Marion’s Girl, in 1954 and 1956, was Welch’s first NCHA World champion followed by Mr San Peppy in 1974 and again in 1976. He won the NCHA World Finals in 1967, 1971 and 1981 on Rey Jay’s Pete, Car Hop, and Peppy San Badger, respectively. His Futurity champions were Money’s Glo in 1962; Chickasha Glo in 1963; Rey Jay’s Pete in 1966; Dry Doc in 1971; and Peppy San Badger in 1977.
Shepard won the 2007 NCHA Futurity on High Brow CD, the horse he will also show in the Champion’s Cup. Immediately following the Championship Cup, Shepard will hurry across the street to Watt Arena in the Will Rogers complex, to show Bet Hesa Cat in the first go-round of the World Championship Finals. Although they still have a chance to earn as much as $30,290 during the Finals, Shepard and Bet Hesa Cat have already locked up the World championship title with $78,494 earned during the 2011 season.
Shepard is among an elite group who have won both the NCHA Futurity and the NCHA World championship. In addition to Welch and Shepard, the other NCHA Double Crown winners are Matlock Rose, Shorty Freeman, Leon Harrel, Tom Lyons, Leroy Ashcraft, Greg Welch, Mike Mowery, and Lindy Burch.