Buck 11/06/30 2:44
The common method of training horses used to be what's known as "breaking" the horse—a brutal physical attack that's meant to crush the animal's spirit through fear. But a man named Tom Dorrance developed an intuitive method based on love and respect, in which horses end up following a person's lead without any use of force. Dorrance taught Ray Hunt, who taught Buck, and now Brannaman travels around the country putting on 4-day clinics on his amazing way of training and riding.
First-time director Cindy Meehl finds the key to Buck's character in his troubled childhood, when he was trained along with his brother in rope tricks by their abusive father. When their mother died, the severe beatings by the alcoholic father became more frequent, until an alert school coach called the sheriff who had the boys taken away to a foster home. Buck's new foster parents used love and encouragement rather than fear and violence to nurture him, and there's a remarkable parallel between this and Buck's whole-hearted adoption of Ray Hunt's natural horse training method when he encountered it as a young man.
Interviews with Buck, his wife and daughter, friends and associates, round out the remarkable picture of someone so in tune with his own feelings that he seems to become almost one with a horse. The film shows Buck at his clinics displaying his astounding patience and skill, by which wild young horses quickly learn to follow his lead, with him barely even touching the rope. A sequence where he describes what it must feel like for a horse to be mounted for the first time highlights the important aspect of empathy that informs his work. He never judges an animal or projects his own negative feelings onto it. The relationship to the horse reflects the relationship to oneself. On the practical side, you never see him whisper—that's just a phrase—but he uses little flags to tap a horse this way or that, which teaches some guidance and at the same time never inflicts pain.
In the film's longest section, towards the end, Meehl wisely pulls us up from expecting miracles. At a clinic, Buck tries to train a poorly raised, violent colt, but the experience ends up as a sobering lesson for the colt's owner rather than a triumph. There is such a thing as damage that can never be undone.
Buck is a beautiful film, as wise and gentle as its subject.