Women of the West

Sheila “Moe” Welch

A California cowgirl turned Texan, Sheila Welch chose a set of spurs over a skillet years ago when she married rancher Buster Welch.

A California cowgirl turned Texan, she chose a set of spurs over a skillet years ago.

Sheila Welch grew up in California, but after she married legendary rancher and cutting-horse trainer Buster Welch, she was introduced to a whole new culture of horsemanship and ranching in Texas. “Moe” later won numerous awards in National Cutting Horse Association competition, including the 1980 non-pro world championship on Doc O Leo. Today, she and Buster keep busy with grandchildren, horses and cattle on their ranch near Rotan, Texas.

A California cowgirl turned Texan, Sheila Welch chose a set of spurs over a skillet years ago when she married rancher Buster Welch.
Photo by Ross Hecox

My style of riding was completely different when I was in California. I grew up around spade bits and romal reins. I rode English, too. You had a horse up-in-hand. You controlled where he put his feet, like dressage. When I saw Buster’s method, which was so loose, I thought, “Boy, I can learn what he does, and I can teach him what I know. We’re gonna really be a team.” But it didn’t take me long bad to figure out what he was doing and how beautiful it was — the freedom that he allowed in his horses. He let them develop and would train each animal as an individual.

I’ve been fortunate to work around great cow men. And I’ve sat back and really studied them. I’ve always liked talking to men about cattle and horses, and things that matter.

I don’t cook at all. I was my dad’s girl. I hunted with him. I don’t mind helping anybody do anything, but if they’ve got plenty of help [in the kitchen], I’d rather be somewhere else. That’s terrible, I know. I’m a whole lot more comfortable sitting out with a group of cowboys.

You can cultivate wisdom, but you can’t cultivate that inner knowledge of where you need to be and when you need to be there.

The other day, we woke up at 2 and drove to Tulia to ship some calves. We loaded trucks for shipping, then loaded some other trucks to come back here. We finally unloaded the last truck about 10 that night. Then we were up at 5 the next morning, just going.

The best thing is that it’s not like work. You get tired, but nobody ever died for lack of sleep. And you’re around these guys who love the same things you love. There’s so much camaraderie and fun. Buster and I have been together 40-some-odd years, and it’s as good as it’s ever been.

When you’re off by yourself, you might find a cow that’s bogged down, or discover that something bad has happened. And no one will know if you ride on by. But you know. It’s about integrity. And if you can’t handle the job by yourself, you go get somebody to help. The real good cowboys that worked for us, I trusted them with everything I had. Lots of goodness. It’s just in them.

Doc O Leo was a great horse. I won the first six shows I ever went to on him. He was like patting your foot at a dance. He was 99.9 percent pure. And I think he loved me as much as I loved him.

CD Chica San Badger was one of the smartest mares I’ve ever ridden. We won the first go-round of the [NCHA] Futurity, were second in semifinals. We were doing good in the finals, and right before the buzzer blew, a Charolais cow hit her in the chest and ran around her. I was so incredibly disappointed. I thought I was going to win the Futurity. But I thought, “You know, I was prepared mentally, physically and spiritually. There wasn’t another thing I could have done. I did my best.” Now, when I mess up because I wasn’t prepared, I can be pretty hard on myself.

When I was showing horses, I studied it. I honed my skills to try to be the best. I watched every top horseman there was. I wanted to know everything about my horse, and I wanted him to know everything about me. I listened to [instructional cassette] tapes. I kept tapes playing in my ears all day. I’d go to bed with them, wake up with them, put my makeup on with them.

I love children. I love their pure little hearts. And it goes back to authenticity. You don’t fool kids.

One of my grandchildren, Whitney, who was killed in a car wreck [as a teenager], just started calling me “Moe.” She was very small. And I loved it. Then, to get everybody to call me Moe, I’d give them 5 cents. They’d come around and say, “We need some Moe money.” It just became a habit. Whitney and I had a really special bond. Everybody calls me Moe. I think it’s very endearing.

It’s not an exciting way we live, I guess. But I can’t picture myself living anywhere but here. It’s simple, but it’s pure.

This article was originally published in the March 2008 issue of Western Horseman.

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