The new documentary film Buck chronicles the life of real-life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman and his work to help, as he calls them, “horses with people problems.” The film follows Brannaman as he tours the country, giving guardians a deeper understanding of their horses and, at the same time, insight into themselves.
Brannaman, whose own upbringing was marred by violent physical abuse, understands horses’ fears and anxieties. Heartbreaking archival footage of horses being whipped and “broken” gives way to scenes of Brannaman gaining the respect and trust of a horse using no more than his voice, body language, and a gentle touch.
Although the film challenges the cruel methods used to “break” horses, it stops short of questioning the use of horses and other animals for entertainment. Brannaman obviously cares deeply about horses and is saving many of them from abusive training techniques, which makes one hope that someday soon he will pause to think about the ethics of buying, selling, breeding, using―and inevitably abusing―horses in the first place. Brannaman himself participates in rodeo events that are stressful and potentially dangerous to the animals involved.
To his credit, Brannaman himself admits that even after decades of working with horses, he still has a lot to learn. Perhaps someday he will fully take to heart the words of one of his students, who, when thinking back on the pain that she has inflicted, admits, “[Y]ou don’t realize how unjust it is until someone shows you a different path.” We all have some growing to do, but Buck has done more than most in his field of endeavor.