Friday, August 19, 2011

Buck and My Bucket List

Last night I saw the movie “Buck” at a local art theater, and was completely blown away. “Buck” is a documentary detailing the life and continuing work of Buck Brannaman, a highly esteemed clinician and horseman. Though I have never attended one of his clinics, I was somewhat familiar with his methods, so I had a few ideas about what to expect from the movie; however, I was happily surprised to discover so much more about him than how he uses a rope halter or how he conducts his clinics. I came away inspired, motivated, and with something new to add to my personal bucket list.

Buck and his brother lived the early parts of his childhood being abused by his father, which became nearly unbearable after their mother died. Their father was an alcoholic and a mean, punitive man, to the point that both boys lived in terror every day, until a gym teacher discovered whip marks on Buck's back, and intervened to have both boys placed in foster care. The family that took them in had rescued many boys through fostering them, and it was there that Buck finally found love and began to heal. They lived on a ranch, and Buck learned to ride a horse, and in turn, set on the path that would be his life's calling. Eventually, he discovered the renowned horseman Ray Hunt, and found a way to work with horses that wasn't forceful or coercive. Buck thrived in this knowledge, and saw himself in the horses, who needed understanding and a chance to do the right thing, rather than being treated as something that needed to be controlled at all costs. It has been his life's mission to help other people reach their horses through good solid horsemanship based on “feel,” and give them the tools to make their horses', and their own, lives better.

I have been giving lessons and training horses since I was a teenager, and I have said, often lamenting, that 90% of what I do is to be a psychologist for the the rider. In order to fix a horse's problem, you first have to fix, or at least face, your own. Horses operate on honesty; they can instantly assess where you are coming from, and what your personal modus operandi is. They know who you are in your heart, and behave accordingly. Watching “Buck” last night, I was struck yet again by how true this is. At one point, a woman brings a horse to a clinic that is truly vicious – I have lived my whole life only seeing one or two horses that were actually so dangerous as to warrant that they be put down, and this horse was definitely that exactly. While the story is tragic and unsettling, what is so great is that Buck is able to tell this woman how it is, and just nails the description of where she has gone wrong. I know that he was doing her a favor in telling her the truth, and most likely saved her life, or someone else's – and certainly, putting this horse down did the horse a favor too. It was impossible to work on the horse's feet, give him vet care, and had anyone tried to make this horse obey, no doubt the horse would have eventually been the loser in the fight.

After the movie, I was left with a renewed sense of purpose in my own life. I have also faced my share of painful adversity in my life, and clung to horses as a way to make sense in this chaotic world. I also have a natural ability to communicate to riders what the horse needs from them, and I also want horses to be treated with more respect and kindness from their human counterparts. While there is no doubt that Buck Brannaman is exceptional at what he does, I think that he would agree that we all can be exceptional in our own way, and through horses, we can heal ourselves and others. So, I have added a new entry to my bucket list: someday I want to ride in one of Buck's clinics, and hopefully, gain more insight into what makes him great. Until then, I will continue work toward elevating my game every time I step into the barn.

Happy trails, and take care!