“I and the public know / What all schoolchildren learn, / Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return.”
Does Buck Brannaman ever give the lie to Auden’s famous lines!
Coming out of a miserable childhood where he and his brother were brutalized for years by their murderous, perpetually drunk father, he has turned into an adult who is all the world’s understanding and compassion rolled into one not-so-laconic cowpoke.
Buck, about whom Cindy Meehl has made the eponymous documentary, is the original horse whisperer, the one on whom the book was based and the Robert Redford film made. Redford himself makes an appearance in the film describing how his first reaction on seeing the lanky man with the ten-gallon hat and the fringed outfit was “Oh,boy!” and how he soon realized what an impressive human being he was dealing with. That’s Buck.
Nine months a year, he leaves his family (which does occasionally join him) and goes cross-country and even abroad to teach established and aspiring horse people the fine art of training horses through communication rather than force. Watching him, gentle most of the time, firm when need be, and the extraordinary rapport he establishes with horses, is to witness something unique. His philosophy is that you don’t gain anything by putting fear in an animal’s (or a human’s) heart. A horse is a receptacle of all our fears and our hang-ups. Getting to know a horse tells us about his history and that of his owner.
The horse will understand what it is we want if we establish from the start that we won’t be taking him to a dark place and we won’t use force or pain. Buck is even against the expression “to break a horse.” He doesn’t believe in breaking anyone and it works beautifully. The wonder is that someone who has been “broken” as he was should have turned out to be such a good man who knows how to use his goodness in showing people and animals how it’s done. Quite a lesson.