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Buck (2011) and Horses

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There are "people" people who are impressive. They are extroverted. They exhibit the positive vibes of a recent Dale Carnegie grad. They are inspiring, too. Their focus on success is catchy. But there are also "horse" people. They are also impressive. Chief among them is the rare individual who has a certain, recognizable skill that is, in part, a gift, as well as the result of experience and know-how. Such a man is Buck Brannaman. Throughout the documentary, Buck, people sing his praises. Small wonder. He solves the unsolvable. He wins over recalcitrant horses. His customers are awestruck. Forty weeks out of every year, Buck takes to the road. The film follows him to Northern California, North Carolina, Washington State, Wyoming, Montana, and Texas. He helps people who have problems with horses, although, according to Buck, these are mainly horses with people problems.

Woven into the documentary are flashbacks and commentary relating to Buck's own story. He grew up doing rope tricks with his brother. Their father was demanding and subjected them to abuse. Buck's way of dealing with his own inner pain served to inform his unique method in training horses. He applies strength and force when needed, but does not resort to punishment. I know plenty of people who enjoy teaching other people "lessons". They do this quite naturally without provocation. It is in their nature. What a more perfect world it would be if Buck divided his time between correcting humans as well as horses. But that is one of those wishes destined to go the way of SOS signals to distant planets that might also support life forms.

Case in point has to do with "breaking". Included in the film are clips that show how old-timers used to tie horses, beat and hobble them, ignore their shrieking, and destroy their will to resist. It may seem as though this blatant mistreatment were inevitable if human and horse were to reach an accord. But Buck demonstrates time and again that he can get horses to do exactly what his clients want them to by means of an effort that is half physical, half psychological. It is quite amazing for those of us who grew up in congested cities and suburbs far from farms and horse country to witness Buck's accomplishments. Horses move backward and forward, at various gaits, or are taught to stop and wait, or kind of strut about in dressage. It pays to remember that horses are vital to certain, mostly cattle-related endeavors. But they have always meant more to us than mere economic partners.

There is the story, for instance, of the mourning of Alexander the Great for his horse, Bucephalus. It is said that he was inconsolable, stricken with grief. Historians claim he did not feel anything close to this extremity at the death of anyone in his short life. The partnership between horses and mankind needs no pointing out. Riding for its own sake also requires no apology. In open country, there are many who prefer riding to driving trendy ATVs. But most of the horses that Buck deals with, at least in the film, are somehow involved in the day-to-day grind of working ranches, found mostly in the spacious West. In addition, horses right now are at the center of a protracted controversy. Mainly mustangs, they roam about, vulnerable, at the mercy of both the elements and a civilization that has cast them off.

Despite all this heavy stuff, Buck makes for a good documentary. It reflects well upon a medium known mostly for other qualities not held in such high esteem. In my opinion, it contains fascinating material. Get to know Buck. Get to know more about horses. Ride!

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