"You can't hold it against him for what his life has been."

Buck

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            Director Cindy Meehl deserves a salute for capturing the depth and importance of her subject. Buck is a startling comment on human behavior by a man who lived through the worst of it and moved on to an understanding of what made him who he is; and he got there through a delicate examination of the interaction between horses and the people whose love for them is often rooted in mistaken assumptions.
            For nine months of each year Buck Brannaman tours the country in his carefully equipped horse van giving clinics to owners and trainers who gather to absorb the ways of this man now widely known as "the horse whisperer." That label derives from the intuitive gentleness Brannaman has discovered as the path to trust, respect, and then cooperation between man and animal. The fact that it is a two way street is the most remarkable aspect of his work.
            As a boy of three, Brannaman became an accomplished trick roper in a touring act with his brother and father called "Buckshot and Smokey." After performances, the boys went home not to praise, but to repeated beatings by a drunken, violent father. It wasn't until the brothers took off their shirts in a school locker room that a coach saw the scars and raw wounds. With an assist from the coach, Buck landed with the Shirleys, a foster family that was raising a small crowd of boys with extraordinary insight and love. "Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape," says Becky Shirley of the warm chaos that enveloped Buck and his new family.
            As an adult cowboy with all the knowledge gained at the Shirley ranch, Brannaman worked to overcome his shyness by giving clinics to horse trainers. He began to discover that mutual respect between trainer and horse produces pride in each. Of a wild horse, Buck says "You can't hold it against him for what his life has been." When there is a behavior problem, he says, it is almost always because the human has not learned to control his emotions.
            At about this point in the documentary, Brannaman's wisdom hits us. It applies, of course, to parents with children, people with horses, people with people. The fact that Buck was able to transcend a brutal childhood to become the gentle human being who understands the subtleties of human and animal interaction seems nearly impossible until we realize his awareness was gained in the years of family love with his foster parents and then with his own wife and daughter. Trained by pain as a child, he won't tolerate anyone who uses pain to train a horse. When Buck says "Never be rude to a horse," he offers us the universal rule of human behavior. Imagine our world if it could listen to Brannaman's insistence on the soft feel of give and take as the only path to getting along.

 

 


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