Greetings again from the darkness. I made a point to attend the opening night of the film as its subject, Buck Brannaman, was slated to hold an audience Q&A after the film. Unfortunately, he was running a bit late, so we only got a few minutes of his time. Still, this remarkable man made an impression … an impression of authenticity and realism. He may perform a “show”, but his is no “act”.
The inspiration for, and technical adviser on, the film The Horse Whisperer, Buck Brannaman explains early in the film that a horse views a human tossing a saddle on his back much the way he would view a lion attack. Such is the manner in which this man makes his points to the eager and often doubting horse owners who attend his clinics. Buck then proceeds to win over horse and human alike with wit, strength, character, kindness and zen-like psychology.
First time documentarian Cindy Meehl does a decent job of presenting the similarities of horse training and child-rearing. Buck’s philosophy stems from the earlier work of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, but is further influenced by the less-than-stellar parenting tactics of his father. Buck and his brother Bill (stage name Smokie) were child rodeo stars who performed rope tricks under the firm hand of their dad. It is clear from the footage that they feared their father. In an unlikely twist of fate, the boys are rescued from the abusive environment thanks to the actions of a football coach and deputy sheriff. To fully understand the brave actions of these two men, one must take into account the normal custom in rural America of minding one’s own business. These men didn’t do that and Buck was given a new life.
Watching a quick clip of the “old” horse training techniques really brings home Buck’s more gentle and understanding style. He stresses the importance of considering the horse and being clear with one’s affection and intentions. His flag waving and lead rope actions can win over a horse in a short time. The surprising part is that the horse’s owner learns every bit as much as their horse. Buck is clear in that the issue with most “problem” horses can be tracked right back to the owner. The same can be said for most problem kids. Just as he says trying to bribe a horse with carrots and sugar leads to a spoiled, unresponsive horse, the same argument can be made for that type of parenting approach.
The frustrating part of the film is that it doesn’t really climb inside the head of Buck. We see a glimpse of a man who has overcome childhood atrocities, but we also see a man who loves his family … yet spends months at a time away from them. We see fire in his eyes as he addresses a horse owner who has the gall to keep 17 studs in her pasture. It’s obvious he fights his own demons towards those who mistreat animals, yet as he lectures we wonder if his care is really for the horse more than the person. It was also strange that no real mention of his brother was provided in the film. We could say it’s none of our business, but the film brings up the issue of childhood and then leaves us hanging on the brother.
Truly the inspiration to Buck’s turnaround is his foster mother. She lights up the screen as she talks about Buck as a child and cracks wise with her observations and the telling of a joke. Her love for Buck is obvious and we hope he realizes just how fortunate he is to have had her in his life.
This is an inspirational man who is making a difference in the lives of people and horses. He has overcome childhood obstacles to make the world a better place. His cowboy philosophy is pretty simple. Everyone carries some darkness and baggage, and we can all make our own choices on whether to let that affect our value and enjoyment in life.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a parent, soon-to-be parent, may some day be a parent OR you are a horse lover OR you enjoy inspirational stories from “regular” people
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you aren’t open to a few life lessons from a real cowboy