by Hugh Fisher
“If there’s a horse whisperer out there, it’s Buck Brannaman.”
That’s what one of the people interviewed in the documentary “Buck” says of the trainer who’s inspired fictional characters and taught hundreds of people how to handle horses.
The film follows Brannaman around the country as he trains horse owners and colts. We also learn the story of how Brannaman went from a child star famous for blindfolded rope tricks at rodeos to the calm professional he is today.
It’s more than just being friendly and buying lots of carrots, Brannaman says. Trust, love and understanding are needed. Rather than whips and force, he teaches the importance of making horsemanship a way of life.
Director Cindy Meehl combines those lessons with footage of people learning their way around horses and images and film from Brannaman’s personal life.
Brannaman started doing rope tricks at age 3 and went professional at 6. He and his brother had to contend with an abusive home life, a father who beat and terrified them and his mother who died young.
As we see footage of Brannaman working with horses and people, the contrast between the violence of his early life and the calm he shows today is staggering.
His knowledge and style of teaching have garnered him many fans. One of those fans is Robert Redford, who starred in and directed “The Horse Whisperer.” He calls Brannaman “The real deal.”
“He was able to do things that the hired trainer couldn’t do,” Redford says.
Some people save all year to be able to attend one of Brannaman’s clinics. There, they learn how to see the horse as a creature with feelings and intelligence. They learn how to see themselves as an extension of the horse, and vice-versa. Horseback riding should be more mental than physical, Brannaman said.
Aside from the beautiful scenery in this 88-minute documentary, the real richness of “Buck” lies in the lessons we see through this window into the trainer’s career.
“If you don’t have any guts, if you don’t have any ‘try,’ you’ll be lucky to be ordinary,” he said.
“Buck” shows a man with an intriguing personal story who’s anything but ordinary. Horse lover or not, you’d do well to see him in action in this film.