Buck – 2011
Directed by Cindy Meehl
Documentary featuring Buck Brannaman
My brothers have followed Buck Brannaman around for about 20 years. They talked about a guy who could take the worst possible horse and make them docile, kind and willing partners within an hour…a half hour even. I had seen their method of “breaking” horses, and experienced it first hand. Once Bill had me ride a particularly difficult mustang that he called Hell Bitch. As we crested a hill, the horse began to crow hop. The first few did not throw me, but by the third, the angle and my weight allowed the saddle to shift. I held on for dear life until I had slid half way down the horse and she got tired enough to roll…right over the top of me.
I held on to the lead rope, even though I was in pretty good pain. I kept the horse’s head on the ground as I rose, reared back and punched it in the jaw. When my brother found out after I got back with the rest of the group, he chuckled and said:
“Now you know why I call her Hell Bitch. I had worked her for a while, and I guess she’s not done being trained I really thought you’d be too big for her to throw off..”
Three cracked ribs later, I never got on top of a horse again. And after watching the documentary, I am ashamed that I ever laid a hand on the horse after she did what she had.
“I’m not here to help people solve horse problems,” Buck entreats, “I help horses solve people problems.”
The people problems range from neglect, abandonment (intentional or otherwise), abuse, or even business as usual. For many years the acceptable treatment of horses was, essentially to bend or break them to have them do the owner’s will. The horse does what we want, but any bond formed is really an illusion. To these horses, humans are essentially administers of pain. The are not partners in any sense. Buck changes the dynamics of the relationship. How he does this must be seen to be believed.
Buck’s approach derived from his time with mentors Ray Hunt, Tom and Bill Dorrance. As much as he learned from these masters of natural horsemanship, Buck has added his own life experiences into the mix and found something that no one else has ever found. Buck finds a lot in common with the horses that he has found needing in his understanding and approach. The abuses that they have experienced, both intentionally and not, mirror the suffering that he and his brother, Smokey, had at the hands of their father, Ace Brannaman. So bad was their condition that once discovered, he and Smokey were taken from their father and given to foster care.
Buck finds many parallels between his experience with his foster parents and what he works to achieve with his horses and when one sees him show this connection, it is impossible to not be amazed. The effect is not just a training of the horse. It is, in fact, a change of view for the owners. Travelling 9 months out of the year, he puts on 4 day clinics that are viewed my hundreds, if not thousands. People like my brothers.
If you have ever fancied yourself a lover of horses, this movie is a must see. That is not the limit of the movie’s appeal, however. I never have cared all that much for the four-legged giants, but I love seeing the effect that Buck has on the people he works with. With very few words, he is able to see into the soul of those who employ him. He views the journey of the horse and master as the same. If you are looking to see miracles, you will get some. Not every journey gets to the rainbow’s end, though.
I found the film itself a little short, but the deleted scenes more than make up for this, allowing for the perfect rating. They would fit perfectly in a film where Buck’s somber, yet hopeful voice sets the pace. So much the effect it has had on me, I think I may drop by Ellensburg next time my brothers go to see him. At least this way my brothers and I can see something together for once.
(***** out of *****)