| October 4, 2011

How does a documentary about a child trick-roper turned cowboy turned horse whisperer serve as an all-encompassing reflection of the human condition? How can a man named Buck not only amaze people with the way he understands and communicates with horses, but actually make us think introspectively– and not just the horse owners who visit his clinics, but even those of us that have no connection to horses? BUCK is an enthralling look at a man who becomes the opposite of what he knows and hates, efforts mainly manifested in his teachings on how to right horses, and in many ways people.
Buck Brannaman is a horse whisperer (and was a consultant for Robert Redford’s film The Horse Whisperer). He is also a real life modern day cowboy- jeans, boots, hat, chaps– the whole nine yards. He is a husband and father whose job teaching 4-day horse clinics all over the country keep him away from home 40 weeks out of the year. He was a victim of child abuse whose father drove him and his brother into very modest fame and child trick-ropers and unleashed his rage on them regularly until they were taken away from him and put into household of a loving foster family. He is something of a humorist, able to tell funny stories and throw out the occasional perfect wisecrack with simple and effortless charm.
And, he’s a philosopher…without trying to be a philosopher. He’d probably reject the notion. His understanding of people through his work is arresting. However, it makes sense that a man who can soothe and teach a horse in a matter of minutes has more than just skill. He has knowledge, depth and perception that is executed with natural heart and spirit, complete confidence and great sensitivity. And many believe that it is his sensitivity and and his ability to relate to tortured souls is what makes his so effective.
This is how Buck looks at it: “A lot of times rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems.”
Throughout the film Brannaman shows us how people fail their horses and how typically unearths the failures and voids within their lives and themselves. The film’s most telling and confounding moment comes when a woman brings in her unmanageable stud, born without enough air causing some brain damage and with no mother, because she died giving birth. After spending some time with him, Buck, his crew and the owner all realize there is no hope for the stud. As tears roll down her face, it becomes painfully clear to the owner that she has failed her young horse and that she must put him down before he hurts or kills someone.
BUCK, directed by Cindy Meehl, has been receiving wide-spread critical acclaim and was a huge hit at Sundance. What seems like a simple, uplifting triumph-over-adversity story, is actually that and a lot more. It is a memorable lesson about understanding, compassion and trust from a man who powerfully teaches these lessons everyday to horses and humans alike.

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