“Buck” is a documentary about Buck
Brannaman, the real “Horse Whisperer,” endorsed by Robert Redford himself.
Buck is a sixty-something cowboy who has been hanging around corrals
and barns all his life, who does indeed have a remarkable way with horses.
Now, he travels throughout the
to various ranches and county fairs, demonstrating his horse training prowess.
His method is not exactly
“whispering.” He makes use of ropes
and flags on metal sticks and his own well-trained mount (whom he’s taught
to do a nifty little cross-step dance routine on command).
If he’s working with a particularly docile horse, he can get it to
respond to quiet voice command, or even a hand gesture or a shoulder turn.
Sometimes, with a very spirited animal, he’ll lasso a hind leg and
“hobble” it until it learns it’s not going to gets its way with him.
Buck shows ‘em who’s boss. He’s
just determined not to be violent about it.
It seems that Buck Brannaman, the child
roping star, was abused as a child, by a perfectionist “stage Dad” whose
idea of discipline was corporal punishment. When
Buck’s mother died, it left no one to ameliorate his Dad’s severe
strictness. (Never mind that his
sainted Mom was apparently complicit in his Dad’s early abuse; that part is
pointedly ignored.) The whole sad situation, including the later involvement
of social services and the experience of foster homes, left Buck Brannaman
emotionally scarred. And determined
that he’s not going to whip or beat anybody or any creature, including
Well, one way you can manage your own
emotions is to always be your own boss. Buck
Brannaman works for no man except himself. And,
over a period of years, Buck Brannaman has so perfected his horse-training
techniques that there isn’t a horse anywhere that he doesn’t know how to
handle. So, from his point of view,
there’s no reason to get violent, or severe, with any horse.
In fact, he’s come to the point in his life where he genuinely
believes there is no such thing as a horse with a behavioral problem.
The problem is with the people who bring the horses to him.
Now here’s where it gets a little
tricky. Sure, for Buck Brannaman, who
can handle any horse anywhere, there’s no reason to get rough with them.
But for the poor untrained amateurs, the ones who don’t have his
skills, and who are operating out of fear because some wild-eyed stallion has
already hurt them or someone close to them, they find themselves berated by
Buck, one even reduced to tears. Buck
implies that they must have some problem within them that causes their horses
to be neurotic. Because it can’t
possibly be the horse’s fault. You
wonder if Buck is really wanting to reprimand his long-deceased father, but
can’t, so he castigates these hapless amateur horse trainers instead.
Buck tells the camera that he believes how a person handles a horse is
like a window into that person’s soul. But
isn’t that a little bit like judging everyone on the basis of how well they
do a skill which you’re already good at? Wouldn’t
that be like a car mechanic judging everyone according to how well they can
overhaul an engine? And implying that
the ones who can’t somehow have something wrong with them?
Later, we get to meet Buck’s wife,
who’s supportive of his constant travels, but usually doesn’t go with him,
and his youngest daughter, who sometimes does travel with him, and wants to be
just like him. But we’re told nothing
about any other family members, or why it is that Buck usually travels alone.
Occasionally, he still competes in rodeos, but mostly, he lives by
himself in his travel trailer, where seldom is heard a discouraging word.
Maybe he’s still, at heart, just an old cowboy who feels most
comfortable up in the saddle, commanding animals, and the skies are not cloudy
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United