“All of your horses are a mirror to your soul.”
Buck is a documentary about Buck “Buckshot” Brannaman, a legendary horse trainer. Buck travels around the country nine months out of the year giving four day horse training clinics. The clinics are for people who would like to advance their horsemanship or are having issues with their horse. However, Buck really describes his clinics as helping horses with people problems.
Buck’s method of training horses is using a soft feel. He is not about punishing horses for anything they do wrong. He simply has the patience, intuition, and knowledge to be able to have a horse learn how to behave with hardly any manipulation at all. Instead of using the leads and ropes to get a horse to go in a certain direction or pace, he uses his body language and unnoticeable movements in his legs and feet. He learned this method of horse training from Roy Hunt who learned the craft from Tom Dorrance.
Many moviegoers may not realize that Buck was an important part of The Horse Whisperer starring Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, and a young Scarlett Johansson. He was a stand-in for Redford and gave advice on the scenes involving horses. He also stepped in for the occasional scene, using his horse to get a certain behavior that was necessary for a scene. The Hollywood trick horses that were brought in for the movie could not accomplish in six hours what Buck and his horse were able to do in fifteen minutes.
While most people will go into Buck expecting to see a documentary about horse training, the film is not just about the horses. It is a documentary on Buck’s life. Many do not know of the horrors he suffered as a child with his brother at the hands of his father. His father regularly beat his sons. Buck and his brother, Smokie, were pretty famous as kids. They were trained to be the youngest blindfolded trick ropers and performed on TV and other events. If the performance was not perfect, the boys knew they would get a severe beating. The boys were eventually taken from their father and placed in a foster home with a loving couple who, for all intents and purposes, became their parents.
I could go on and on describing the story that is told in Buck. I was lucky enough to see this documentary at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. Buck was the only film I saw that received a standing ovation afterward and was by far the best film I saw at SXSW. The film had recently won the Audience Award for a documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. I had not seen a trailer for the film beforehand, so I did go into it thinking it would mostly be about horse training. What I got in return was a powerful experience that tells the story of a man who came from horrible circumstances and still was able to turn himself into something great and inspiring. He has a passion for horses and connects on another level with them, especially the ones who have been through traumatic experiences, have been abused, or are just scared.
There is a part of the film that deals with a violent, disturbed horse. Some who watch this film may ask why it was necessary to show that horse and explain the circumstances surrounding how the horse was raised. That horse proves a very good point. Like dogs and other animals, it is often the owner that shapes the horse. If an owner does not have the time or the resources to put into properly caring for a horse physically and emotionally, then he or she should probably not own a horse. You treat an animal how you would like to be treated, and it is clear that Buck trains horses with that saying in mind.
The documentary is not all drama. There is quite a bit of humor involved also. Buck Brannaman is really a good cowboy with some great stories to tell. He shares many “Buckisms” in the film, and director Cindy Meehl left many out on the cutting room floor. Buck’s mom also tells a little joke at the end of the film. There are also some cute conversations between Buck and his wife and daughter.
Buck really is a beautiful film. There is beautiful scenery from the Big Sky country and some beautiful horses included as well. I loved the ending and the song, “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam, that played into the credits. I had a very emotional experience watching Buck, probably more than others due to my work with animals. Buck is not just a film about a horse trainer, but the life of someone who has come from horrible circumstances to becoming one of best known horse trainers and everything in between. I was enthralled and captivated by the film. I think I have told just about everyone to go and see this film. I loved this film so much that I agonized over this review because I want to pique someone’s interest enough after reading this review that they will go and see Buck. I do not think any words that I can put down in this review will ever be enough to totally encompass the experience I had watching Buck.
I give Buck 5 “Oprah said a vacuum is an aphrodisiac” out of 5