My Favorite Documentary — No, My Favorite Movie of 2011: Buck

“Your horse is your mirror to your soul. Sometimes you’ll like what you see. Sometimes you won’t.” Buck Brannaman

When I was three, an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I promptly replied: “A horse!”

That response highlighted my love of horses, which, in turn, fueled my devotion to the two horses I had as a teenager. I loved them movie Buck — and it’s not only because of my interest in equines.

The documentary delves into the life of the talented, humble horse trainer Brannaman, highlighting his skill with horses and people. Visually stunning, filled with engaging characters — both 2- and 4-legged — those elements alone make Buck a wonderful movie.

Even Robert Redford appears, as he describes how heavily the production crew relied on Buck for help with the 4-footed actors featured in the 1998 movie The Horse Whisperer.

What makes the documentary profound is the fact that the hero overcame not only the tragedy of his mother’s death at an early age, but also the gross and violent abuse meted out by his father. Brannaman could easily have followed the path he knew best – one of abuse and violence aimed at those around him. Or his experiences could have turned him into a gnarled cow hand, emotionally isolated from the world. Instead, he had the courage and insight to chose an entirely different option and has become one of the premier horse trainers on the continent as well as a devoted family man.

More credit could have been given to the school football coach and sheriff who became aware of the abuse the Brannaman boys got from their father. It was Montana in the 1950’s, in an area and an era where people minded their own business. These two men broke with tradition, took Buck and his brother out of hell, and placed them with the couple Buck calls his parents.

Their acceptance and guidance allowed Buck to flourish and grow physically, emotionally, spiritually. He lucked into contact with Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, the top equine trainers of the time, and found his calling. He overcame major issues with shyness and introversion to teach what he was learning to others, sharing his gift and his knowledge to enhance the horse-human connection.

I think what Brannaman does is not about horses. I think what Brannaman does is about humans. He improves us, and therefore, his — and our — world.

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