Fashion & Beauty

Betty Buckley: “I Forgot to Get My Cutting Horse”

Buckley was on vacation at the famed Miraval Spa in Arizona, enjoying its riding program, when she began to experience grief about the loss of a horse she’d once owned. “My show horse from age 12 was named Black Bucket. I showed him through my teen and college years. When I left Fort Worth, I told him that I would go and be successful, and then I would get a ranch and come get him. And then years and years and years went by.” By the time Buckley was able to visit him, Bucket was 33, and he died soon after her visit. Her trip to Miraval made her reflect on the sadness she still felt, not just about losing a beloved animal but about not having followed through on her promise to him. She confided to the head of the riding program, “One of my fondest dreams is to ride and show cutting horses.” The woman responded quickly, “Oh no, you could never do that. You can’t think that’s possible at this point in your life.” Having recently turned 50, Buckley assumed that she was right. “Maybe this isn’t one of the goals I’m meant to fulfill,” she rationalized. “Maybe this is just a fantasy.” She let the idea go.

Then, a couple of years later, the twin towers fell. “The experience of living in New York City at that time was a real wakeup call,” Buckley says. “In the months that followed I became obsessed with getting my cutting horses. I thought, ‘I forgot to do this. I have to do this.’ My sweet assistant, Cathy, thought I’d lost my mind. I said, ‘Who knows when this life ends? I have to do this.’”

Buckley’s “cutting horse quest” eventually led her to the legendary Bill Freeman, the top trainer in the sport at that time. “These trainers are like rock stars to me,” she says, laughing. “I’m in awe of them. I had this teenage-girl point of view about it all, because the last time I’d had a horse I was a teen.” She explained to Freeman that she was an actress and a singer, and that she wanted to ride and show cutting horses. She had concerns, though. “I cannot fall off!” she insisted. “I’m 55, so it’s a little different than when I took falls as a teenager.” Her earlier attempts to ride cutting horses with other trainers had left her feeling “like a monkey clinging sideways to the horse.” Freeman suspected that the issues had been with the horses, not the rider, so he put her on a wonderful stallion named “Livin’ & Learnin’.” It proved to be a great experience, and Freeman agreed to mentor her. Several months later, he called and said, “I found your horse.”

Buckley’s cutting horse was a dappled gray gelding champion named Purple Badger. He was only 5 years old, but had already won a lot of prize money. Novice riders are usually paired with mature, steady horses, but Buckley and Badger were a winning team right away. “Badger was so patient with me and would always take care of me. Whenever I gave him the wrong cue, he would do the right thing anyway. We had this amazing connection. He was my first cutting horse, a brilliant teacher, my best friend and truly my soulmate.”

Meanwhile, Buckley was dividing her time between life and work in New York and training and competitions in Texas and around the country, traveling back and forth to Fort Worth as much as possible to practice. Then one night, she was coming home from teaching song interpretation and acting, and she had an epiphany: “I need to live where my horse lives.” It was a message from her heart, but she felt conflicted. “Wait a minute,” she thought. “I have this beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side on Riverside Drive, and I thought I’d live there for the rest of my life.” Her inner voice prevailed, though, and the next day she put the apartment on the market. Serendipitously, a property in Texas she had once considered became available again. By that Thanksgiving 11 years ago, she had moved down to a beautiful little ranch, where she lives today with her assistant, four horses, a donkey, and many dogs and cats.

BadgerBetty with her beloved cutting horse Purple Badger, a couple of weeks before he died.

“Never was a horse so well loved. I built this barn for you. I built everything here for you,” she would tell Badger as they rode around the ranch. Buckley enjoyed “three incredibly blissful years” showing him and winning competitions between concert, theater, television, and film work, “to pay for everything.” She was bereft when he suddenly died, quite young, of an aneurism. “Badger was a great being. He changed my life. He brought me back to something that I had really always wanted to do.

Touring to promote her album Ghostlight has kept her on the road in recent months. But Buckley is eager to spend time back on her ranch with her horses. Whether riding is an unexpected fit or not, she’s found it to be a great antidote to life in the spotlight. “Horses are very spiritual. They have an incredible emotional bond with human beings; there’s a tremendous, profound empathy between horses and humans that is very healing.” This is a refreshing contrast to a career in an industry that is filled with pigeonholing, constant judgment, and gossip. “You can’t be successful with horses unless you’re totally yourself; they don’t respond to anything that is false,” Buckley assured me. “There is no projection involved. To a horse, you are either a true being or you’re not.”

Buckley is also passionate when it comes to discussing age. “Our culture is so merciless about our aging process — so cruel in its perspective and mental construct about it. There are so many beautiful things about growing older. One of the great things about aging is that certain things fall away that obsessed you as a younger person. If I’d known then what I know now, boy, things would have been a lot different,” she laughs.

“I think there is tremendous grace that is possible in the process of aging. And there is also the possibility of wonderful creativity. I try to commit myself, now, as an older woman, to appreciate myself, now, as I am in this moment. As a younger woman I was never able to honor and respect myself fully. At some point, you have to say, ‘You know what? This—right now—this face, this body, this ability, right now is as good as it ever was. It’s different, but it’s just as good.’”


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  • Jeanne Trammell Reed January 30, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Hi Betty….although you and I were friends years ago at AHHS, I haven’t seen you since; though I’ve always kept up with you and always proud of your achievements! My bond with you was through my love for horses, dogs & cats! You invited me a couple of times to ride with you at the GD Stables where you kept your horse. So that was our connection! Looking forward to hearing from you. I really enjoyed the above article; it touched so close to home, it brought tears to my eyes!