Gusti Buerger ~ Profile
For Gusti Buerger, there’s no question; the horses will always come first. Buerger, head of the new Home Ranch Performance Horse Training Program, is one of the top reined cow horse riders and trainers in the country— in 2020 alone, she took the championship in the Limited Open and Intermediate Open divisions and was an Open Finalist at the Reno Snaffle Bit Futurity; she was an Intermediate and Open Finalist and Limited Open Champion at the NRCHA Futurity; and she was Open Futurity Champion in all divisions at IRCHA. While she is a top performer in the performance horse world, she also embraces the day-to-day work of bringing young horses along, and strives to help each one grow into the most successful version of itself.
That commitment is one of the many reasons the McFarlane family knew Buerger was the right trainer to guide Home Ranch on its new performance horse venture. “We want to make our horses the best that they can be, whatever that may be. We know Gusti will do that,” says Courtney McFarlane-Kennedy.
Heading up a program like Home Ranch Performance Horses is exactly what Buerger has been preparing for her whole life. She grew up on a cattle ranch in western Colorado, participating in 4H and helping her parents move cows in the mountains. Some of her earliest memories are of blissful days in the saddle, riding among the quaking aspens or wading bareback into ponds for a swim with her equine companions. Even as a child, Buerger knew she wanted to devote her career to horses.
Training and competing was a natural progression from a ranching childhood. The main events in competition —reining, cutting, fence work— after all, all draw on those same important skills. But Buerger credits the late Sherri Gilkerson with introducing her to the reined cow horse world. The two met when Gilkerson was teaching at a 4H clinic Buerger attended; they bonded over their similarly bred horses. Soon after, Buerger started working for Gilkerson in exchange for lessons, and even rode with her in Arizona during the winter months. “She taught me almost all of my early horsemanship skills,” Buerger says. “She’s definitely my idol and my hero.”
Buerger ended up buying the very horse that had prompted that first conversation with Gilkerson. The mare, Cute N Cashy, became her first competition horse, and the mount she won the Youth Bridle Championship on at the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity in 2006. Since then, she has worked for some of the top names in the discipline, including Corey Cushing, TJ Good, and most recently Annie Reynolds.
At Home Ranch, Buerger will have the opportunity to step fully into her own light for the first time. “I’ve been working for horse trainers for 15 years gaining the knowledge and ability to be able to do this, and I’m excited for the opportunity to do it on my own,” she says.
Training At Home Ranch ~
As the head trainer for the performance horse program, Buerger has returned to her home state of Colorado to build a string of elite reined cow horses. She will select yearlings and two-year-olds with potential, bring them along in a way that makes the most of their talents, and show them at the top NRCHA competitions. Currently, five horses—Blackjack, Cinnamon, Lionel, Poppy, and Peanut—are part of the fledgling program. The plan is to eventually have between 12 and 15 head in training at a given time. With the help of her assistant Cassidee Wood, Buerger will work with the horses-in-training five days per week, developing customized regimens according to age, experience, ability, and personality.
In addition to her 2020 successes in the Futurities, Buerger recently advanced to the finals in the World’s Greatest Horseman-Cow Work event. Going forward, her goal is to compete in and win the prestigious Snaffle Bit Futurity on a horse she chose and trained herself.
An Abiding Love for Horses
Ultimately, Buerger stresses, the horses’ abilities and interests will dictate what they do and how far they get. It’s simply her job to help them get there. While extreme athleticism is necessary to become an elite reined cow horse, it’s not enough. Animals that perform the skills but lack an “overachiever” attitude will be more likely to excel as amateur mounts or working ranch horses on one of the Home Ranch cattle properties. This year, however, she has a hopeful in Lionel, a three-year-old red roan gelding by Very Smart Remedy and out of Magicat.
Clearly, Buerger has lofty goals, and ones that are only drawing nearer as she develops the Home Ranch Performance Horses program. But, as much as she thrives on the competition and the training, her love has always been the horses themselves. “I enjoy working with them every day,” she says. “And at the end of the day, I want to be known as a horseman, as someone who cares about the horse.”