McFarlane Family History and Vision

When Scott McFarlane purchased the Home Ranch in the summer of 2020, he planned to transform the iconic Colorado property into a working cattle operation and a private family compound. But, true to McFarlane tradition—his father Willis was the legendary businessman behind one of the world’s largest hotel management chains (AIRCOA) and the Denver Buffalo Company—the project quickly evolved into a much bigger endeavor: Scott and his daughter Courtney are now building an equine program that will produce some of the top ranch and performance cow horses in the country.

From Cattle Ranching to Performance and Ranch Horse Training

The livestock business isn’t new to the McFarlane family. You might even say it’s a proud family tradition that begins with Scott’s father Will McFarlane. “Buffalo Will” founded the Denver Buffalo Company back in 1991 and was one of the first ranchers to introduce Coloradans to home grown bison meat; at one point he raised 2,500 head on his 14,000-acre Elbert County ranch. And thanks to his passion, both his children and grandchildren grew up on the family ranches, riding horses and reveling in the grandeur of the Rockies. Although those original properties are no longer in the McFarlane family, their legacy was something Scott wanted to pass on to his own daughters’ children.

But, as Scott and Courtney started expanding the cattle operations across their network of Colorado properties, they hit a roadblock that sparked a new venture. While the horses they inherited from the guest ranch excelled at carting visitors through the wilderness, they were not well-equipped to do the tasks required of working ranch horses.

With properties spanning tens of thousands of acres and as many as 800 head of cattle, the Home Ranch horses need to be athletic, level-headed, and very broadly skilled. One day they may be walking steep terrain to check fence lines, another sorting first-time heifers so they can be watched closely for delivery complications. On top of the work itself, ranch horses need to stay calm in all kinds of situations, whether the ground is slipping out from under them during mud season or a hoof accidentally gets looped in a rope. And they’re essential partners in the mountains—able to get to remote areas inaccessible by ATV or side-by-side and less threatening to the cows than motorized vehicles.

In short, Courtney explains, “We needed different horses to efficiently get things done on the ranch.” So, they started searching for the best purpose-trained ranch horses they could find, sourcing from top trainers such as Brooke and Rodey Wilson and Turner Performance Horses.

As they shopped, the father-daughter team noticed something: There was an overlap between the skills needed to compete in the reined cow horse disciplines and those practiced on the ranch. The performance horses just did it with some added flair and, at the highest levels, the particular intensity that’s unique to top athletes. So, they began pondering how performance horses might fit at the Home Ranch, and sliding into the reined cow horse world was the obvious choice.

But, much like Will McFarlane before them, Scott and Courtney simply couldn’t imagine building anything but the best. So, with the new aim of making Home Ranch Performance Horses the go-to resource for world class equines, they had to find the right trainer. They landed on Gusti Buerger, a rising star in the reined cow horse world who just so happens to come from a Colorado ranching family herself. She has the drive and talent to select, develop, and compete elite horses in the arena and the practical background to tune up those that are spending their days making rounds on the ranch.

“Gusti can help us create amazing ranch horses, and hopefully we can help her become one of the greatest cow horse trainers in the world,” Courtney says.

As head trainer, Gusti will select young horses—typically yearlings and two-year-olds—and develop them to compete in the top National Reined Cow Horse Association divisions. Since she is mostly starting with such blank slates, she looks for proven bloodlines, natural athleticism, and innate cow sense—often indicated by a personality that tiptoes the line between sensitive and scared. A good cow horse needs to be attentive and responsive without being too nervous to want to do the work.

Then, she puts in the hours to make each horse the best version of itself. Training starts with under-saddle basics like trotting and cantering circles, and as the horses gain confidence, she introduces cow work. Next, they begin learning the events, including cutting, reining, and fence work. And once the horses have their skills down and have started competing, most sessions focus on fitness, with schooling reserved for the days or weeks leading up to shows.

Throughout the process, Gusti pays attention not just to the animals’ physical abilities, but to their mental suitability. As with human athletes, those that combine athleticism with desire and work ethic have the best shot of advancing to the highest levels. But, she stresses, horses lacking that extra drive can still make exceptional mounts for other purposes.

Thus, while Gusti and Home Ranch Performance Horses will definitely be reaching for an ultimate goal— to win the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity, a prestigious event for three-year-olds—they’re also creating an open-ended future for these young horses.

The program, while in its infancy, is already underway. Five horses are currently in training and in the coming years, Gusti will continue to grow the string to twelve or fifteen. During that same timeframe, the Home Ranch will launch a sales arm to move the horses into their second careers. Some will continue as competitors, perhaps joining a lucky junior or amateur rider in Derbies and other events. Others could go on to put their training to practical use, working cattle on the wide open spaces of a ranch. Regardless of where they land, it’s thanks to Gusti’s horse-focused sensibilities that each animal will be uniquely prepared for the transition.