Fay Owen “Buster” Welch passed away peacefully at home in Abilene, Texas, on Sunday, June 12, 2022. He was born 94 years prior on May 23, 1928, in Sterling County, Texas, the last of eight children born to Charles Owen Welch and Fay Lucas Welch.
Within a month of his birth, his mother died. The children were dispersed among relatives and Buster was raised by his grandparents, Bud and Sarah Welch, until his father remarried. From his earliest days, he drew inspiration from horsemen and ranchers. At the age of 13, he ran away from home and began his long and influential life among cowboys, ranchers and horsemen. Before he turned 18, he worked for the Proctor brothers in Midland, the Long X Ranch in Jeff Davis County, and the famed Four Sixes in Guthrie.
His intense passion was for the work that called on a good horse. Though ranching was his life’s goal and life’s work, it could not contain him. By the time he was 26, he became a world champion cutting horse trainer, riding Marion’s Girl to the title. By the age of 32, he helped create the National Cutting Horse Association’s pre-eminent event, the NCHA Futurity. Before his career finished, he would win the event a record five times.
Buster developed styles of saddles and tack that changed horse training and showing and remain in use by most of today’s competitors. More than that, he developed a reputation as one focused on the greater good of the sport. Buster was generous in advice and assistance to the very people striving against him in the arena. He brought a level of class and dignity to cutting that remains a hallmark of the sport today.
In 1974 he signed on with the fabled King Ranch. Riding Mr San Peppy under their banner, he won the NCHA World Championship two more times. A son of Mr San Peppy, Peppy San Badger, more commonly known as “Little Peppy,” became Buster’s magnum opus. Together they won the 1977 Futurity. Little Peppy went on to become one of the breed’s most influential sires.
Though possessing only an eighth-grade education, Buster was a voracious reader and lifelong learner. His unadulterated passion for his lifestyle, incredible grasp of the history of his people and his land and his authenticity and ability in every setting attracted people of all stripes to his sphere. World business leaders, heads of states, prize winning authors and the jet set of Hollywood were drawn to his easy charm and prepossessing charisma. Working cowboys and horse trainers would flock to his ranch to hang on his every word for insights into his otherworldly abilities with horses and cattle. Vast and varied are the people whom he called friends.
His accomplishments, connections and personality contributed to his status as one of the pre-eminent figures in Western American culture. He was inducted into the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame, Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame, won the Foy Proctor Memorial Cowman’s Award, the Golden Spur Award, the Western Horseman Award, the Charles Goodnight Award and a host of other awards and honors too numerous to list here.
Buster, furthermore, was dedicated to his family. He hosted Welch family reunions at his ranch and in his later years cherished visits from a vast collection of relatives. In his 94 years he suffered much tragedy, yet he never withdrew in sadness. He continued to engage with his family and friends and manage his business ventures until his death. He stayed horseback until the end.
He is predeceased by his wife, Sheila Morris, his grandson Sterling Wilson, his granddaughter Whitney Welch, and his son Greg Welch, and his ex-wife, Ginger.
Buster is survived by his sisters Beth Joy (Bob) and Nann McCoy, son, Ken Welch (Dixie), daughters Ruth Ann Welch Williams (Ronnie) and Georgia Welch, son, Dolin Morris (Becky), daughter, Nina Finley (David). He is also survived by his grandchildren: Amy Welch King (Joshua), Katy Welch, Kelly Welch, Lance Welch (Jacque), Jenny LaSeur (Matt), Abby Howard (Tanner), Dawson Burns (Rebecca), Kirby Meadows (Ward), Brooke Morris (Cole), Charlsi Bethea (Tyler). He is also survived by 16 great grandchildren.
Though his interests were wide-ranging, he saw everything through the lens of horses and ranching. One of his favorite quotes came from Martha Washington, who once said, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not our circumstances.” Buster strove for a curious, hardworking and cheerful disposition.
He leaves a legacy of family who loved him, transcendent horsemanship and the determination to excel in any endeavor to which he put his active mind and ample enthusiasm.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers donations may be given in Buster’s honor to NCHA Foundation NCHAFOUNDATION.ORG, or Ranching Heritage Center; 3121 4th Street, Lubbock, Texas 79409-3200.
Graveside services will be held at Cottonwood Flats Cemetery in Scurry County, 9 a.m., Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Services are under the direction of The Hamil Family Funeral Home, 6449 Buffalo Gap Road, Abilene.