'Buck': Helping Horses With People Problems

Buck Brannaman has been called a horse whisperer for his ability to communicate with and transform horses. i i

Buck Brannaman has been called a horse whisperer for his ability to communicate with and transform horses. Ezra D. Olsen/Sundance Selects hide caption

itoggle caption Ezra D. Olsen/Sundance Selects
Buck Brannaman has been called a horse whisperer for his ability to communicate with and transform horses.

Buck Brannaman has been called a horse whisperer for his ability to communicate with and transform horses.

Ezra D. Olsen/Sundance Selects

In the film Buck, director Cindy Meehl tells the story of Buck Brannaman, a cowboy who channeled a childhood of abuse into a unique career as what some have dubbed a horse whisperer.

The film is part of this year's Silverdocs film festival, taking place this week in Silver Spring, Md.

Brannaman tells NPR's Neal Conan that horses have traditionally been "broken" by trainers, or taught to obey their masters' orders through harsh means of discipline. But Brannaman says he prefers to "start" horses.

"It's really all about getting the horse comfortable, where he realizes you don't mean him any harm," he says.

Brannaman tries to teach horses that they don't have to defend themselves against or fear humans. He says his method of working horses is becoming more and more generally accepted — at least in the U.S.

Filmmaker Meehl tells Conan that she started out thinking Buck would be a film about horses, but Brannaman's lessons made her realize that it was really one about people.

"I realized that everything he was teaching, everything I had learned from him was translating into my life," she says.

Brannaman agrees.

"Horses do reveal a lot of things about us. And some of them are real good, and some of them aren't so good," he says.

Brannaman says he's learned some tough truths about humans by observing interactions between owners and their horses.

"I haven't made a great reputation on sugar-coating things," he says. "So I don't guess I'm going to start now."

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