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Buck Brannaman, the Horse Whisperer

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Apr 07, 2015
Category: Documentary

Buck Brannaman specializes in the improbable. Got a skittish, poorly trained horse? A bucking bronco? A steed who seems not to care about anything? When an owner brings that uncooperative beast to one of Buck’s clinics, very quickly — often in a matter of minutes — he gets your horse ready to ride. No whips are involved, no threats are made. Buck’s methods call for a little stroking with a flag, a steady gaze, a gentle tone.

You say you don’t ride? Don’t care about horses?

Don’t be a horse’s ass. Stick around. This is more about you — much more about you — than it is about Dobbin.

Buck Brannaman’s name may not be familiar to you, but you do know who he is. If you read The Horse Whisperer — or saw the movie in which a magical Montana rancher heals a New York executive, her daughter and her daughter’s horse  — yes, that was Robert Redford playing Buck.

And now there’s a documentary about Buck.

You can buy the DVD from Amazon here. Or you can buy/rent the video download of the movie and stream it right now. Click here. Or you can make do with Buck’s 2001 memoir, "The Faraway Horses: The Adventures and Wisdom of One of America’s Most Renowned Horsemen.” [To buy the paperback, click here. For the Kindle download, click here.]

What you’ll see, in the book and the film, is a man who was abused and brutalized as a boy — after he and his brother were removed from his father’s care, his father sent them birthday cards promising to kill them when they turned 18 — who should have grown up to abuse and brutalize others. Instead, he found some masters. And then looked deep within. And what he saw was this:

Bad colts don’t want to be bad, they just don’t know better.

To help horses get better, don’t lecture them or punish them. There’s a difference between discipline and punishment.

Make it difficult for the horse to do the wrong thing and easy to do the right one.

Even if you’re going through something that makes you think your life is over, you can still have a future.

When you’re dealing with a kid or an adult or a horse, treat them the way you’d like them to be, not how they are now.

And this, the wisest approach to parenting I have ever read:

When things start to go wrong with a child, there is nothing wrong with laying down some rules, with being strict and saying no. You can talk to a child, reason with him, but you still need to give him a choice. You need to give him someplace else to go to in his mind, and something else to do so he can succeed. If you don’t, if you wait for him to do the wrong thing because you weren’t paying attention to your responsibilities and then you become angry and beat on him, he won’t learn anything from what he did. He’ll learn to fear you. He’ll learn to be sneaky and covert about what he does. He may never learn to do the right thing. Instead, he is likely to learn nothing but how to fail.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And it is, because Buck is plain-spoken and transparent. He has no secrets. Just a code. Which works.

This documentary is thrilling to watch. The childhood footage — it breaks your heart. His fantastic foster parents make you think that foster kids should be removed from cities and placed in good homes in the countryside. Watching him train a horse in less time than it takes to cook a burger is inspiring. Listening to him deal with owners — he likes to say that most horse problems are people problems. His bluntness when something goes dangerously wrong. His love for his wife. And I could go on….

“Buck” bristles with ideas. When it ends, you’ll feel charged up and excited. And optimistic.