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Steamboat Magazine

Riding High

Gusti Buerger practices a controlled stop on her horse, Magicality. Photo courtesy of the Home ranch. 

Steamboat Springs, CO - "When I’m picking out horses, I look at their eyes a lot. You can tell a lot about a horse from their eye. I look for one that’s soft. Intelligent,” says Gusti Buerger, head of the new performance horse training program at the Home Ranch in Clark, CO. Buerger would know – she has spent her whole life working with  horses, and is now one of the top cow horse competitors in the world.

Buerger was born and raised on a ranch in Western Colorado, showing a variety of livestock in 4H and moving cattle on horseback. “I always loved horses,” she says. At an early age, horse trainer Sherri Gilkerson introduced Buerger to the reined cow horse world, mentoring her in the sport and inspiring her to pursue it at a professional level.

Gusti Buerger chases down a cow on her horse, Magicality. Photo courtesy of the Home Ranch. 

Reined cow horse work is scored on three disciplines: herd work, reining and cow work. In herd work, the horse and rider are expected to prevent single cows from rejoining a herd, cutting three cows in under 2 1/2 minutes. “You’re aiming for it to be very fluid and pretty,” Buerger says. Reining, also known as “dry work,” consists of riding the horse precisely in a set pattern, without the involvement of cattle. Cow work involves herding a cow into one end of the arena, then turning it around and boxing it into a final location. “That’s the most difficult one,” Buerger says.

Buerger used the ranching skills from her upbringing to become one of the top cow horse riders in the world today. In 2020 alone, she won championships in limited open and intermediate open, and was an open finalist in the Reno Snaffle Bit Futurity, as well as being an intermediate and open finalist and limited open champion at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity. “It was incredible,” Buerger says. “There’s a lot that goes into it, and it just sort of fell into place.” 

The key to success in the cow horse world lies in selecting a high-quality, trainable horse with the proper attitude and athletic ability. “It’s important to hang out with them a lot,” Buerger explains. While athleticism is extremely important, she says, “I go off their personalities. If I’m picking between two equally athletic horses, I go for the better demeanor.”

Gusti Buerger selected her horse, Magicality, based on a combination of athleticism and demeanor. Photo courtesy of the Home Ranch. 

Home Ranch manager Michael Moon, at the behest of father-daughter ranch owners Scott and Courtney MacFarlane, reached out to Buerger to offer her the job of head trainer and manager of performance horse training at the Home Ranch, where she now puts her horse-reading abilities on display. “I could tell they were really amazing people,” Buerger says. Buerger selects reined cow horse prospects for the ranch as yearlings or 2-year-olds and shows them at NRCHA competitions at the age of 3. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” she says. “A dream come true.”

The sky’s the limit with Buerger at the Home Ranch, which has hopes of one day training as many as 15 horses at a time. While her work in both training and competing has risen to an elite level, for Buerger everything is grounded in the relationship between trainer and horse. “Horses have so much personality; they’re such forgiving animals, and they forgive us of our mistakes,” she says. “They’re our friends.”