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Friday, 24 June 2011 00:00

"Buck" Brannaman Proves Gentle Works with Horses and People

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Written by Diane Carson
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Forty-nine-year-old Buck Brannaman is already a legend in horse riders' circles and among working cowboys. The documentary Buck about his early life and who he became as he survived those years will, I hope, spread his inspirational attitude to everyone, because Buck is an extraordinary human being, embodying sincere politeness and heartfelt humanity, all the more surprising given his upbringing.

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At four and a half, Buck performed as a fancy roper, a headliner with his six-year-old brother. Behind the scenes, their alcoholic father brutally beat them. Removed from that abusive environment by the intervention of a football coach, Buck became the opposite of his father. For Buck advises being gentle in what you do while firm in how you do it. And he lives entirely by that code with humans and horses.

Traveling from ranch to ranch forty weeks a year, as he has for three decades, Buck leads four-day horse training clinics. Clips from these events make up the backbone of Cindy Meehl's documentary, with interspersed comments from Buck and interviews with his still feisty foster mother, his wife, friends and acquaintances, including Robert Redford. Redford became a Brannaman fan when directing The Horse Whisperer, based on Buck's awe-inspiring work with horses.

Numerous, offhanded comments peppered throughout the film convey profound ideas in a few words. For example, Buck plainly states that he helps horses with people problems rather than people with horse problems. He adds that working respectfully with horses "will make you better in areas you didn't think related to horses." In other words, Buck doesn't try to beat them into submission as too many still do, even when, as the film shows, he encounters a horse that can not be redeemed.

Giving credit to Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt who first advocated this approach of encouragement and correction versus force, Buck admits that he felt totally skeptical of the stories he heard until he saw the evidence for himself. A lot of people will probably feel this way about Buck Brannaman, but anyone who sees the mesmerizing documentary Buck will come away convinced that this man on a horse and working with a horse is poetry in motion. He's also one fine human being. Buck won the documentary audience award at this past year's Sundance Film Festival. It's now showing at a Landmark Theatre.

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