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Thursday, July 28, 2011 07:26 pm

Perseverance and optimism separate Buck from the herd

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At first meeting, some might dismiss Buck Brannaman as a cowboy who specializes in corn-porn philosophy. Phrases like “I help horses with people problems,” trip over his lips as others might take a breath. But once you get to know him – and you’ll want to become acquainted with even more by the end of Cindy Meehl’s moving documentary, Buck – you realize there’s nothing insincere about anything he says or does.

Achieving fame at an early age on the rodeo circuit with his brother as roping artists, young Buck’s life was anything but ideal. Afraid of his physically abusive father, things got worse for him when his protector, his loving mother, died when he was eight years old. Living with his alcoholic father for another four years, Buck and his brother were eventually taken to a foster home where he found the guidance and the purpose he craved. It’s there that he finds an affinity with horses and comes see in them kindred spirits.

Attuned to the fact that the way horses are treated is based on violence, Buck took to using calmer methods to train them and allow their owners to ride them. The basis for the character in The Horse Whisperer, he says that “the way you treat people is the way you’ll treat horses and vice versa.” This is never more obvious than when we see him in action, trying to treat a horse that has suffered brain damage and abuse, an animal that he -- and we -- realize symbolizes Buck and the fate that was awaiting him had he not been rescued. His reaction to this horse’s fate is telling and a moving. We see him empathize with its situation and react to the hopelessness of it. “Your horse is a mirror to your soul,” he says at one point and from the way we see Buck treat these animals, we can tell that his soul is pure and honest, despite having glimpsed the darkness.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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