Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Want Buck! I want Buck!

Oh, how I want to see this movie. It can't get here fast enough.

Sundance Trailer and Poster EXCLUSIVE: Buck, True Horse Whisperer Documentary - Thompson on Hollywood

A documentary about Buck Brannaman. I think, almost every horse person knows who he is and have either read about his methods or attended his clinics, but non-horse people know him from the movie, The Horse Whisperer. The character Robert Redford played was modeled after him.

In the trailer, he says things like I talk about all the time on this blog--horses are a mirror to our souls--and the other great truism--if you get to know a horse, you get to know its owner. Also, fixing horse problems is really fixing human problems--what people did wrong training their horses.

When I came back to horses, as I've shared before, I learned that I'd become a fearful person, and I think that is a common theme among women. You could look at my horses and know that about me because I'd take a perfectly nice horse and make it a monster without knowing I had. I'd learned to tune out threats to my welfare so well, that when a horse would threaten me, I wouldn't pick up the signs until they were so obvious they could have killed me.

I was incredibly lucky to have a trainer, and a friend, who boarded at the same place I did. She was like my own personal Buck Brannaman--and she'd trained a bit with him (clinic) and others like him. Nowadays, though, almost every trainer is like him--so that's not saying much, I guess.

Anyway, having her there with me, day to day, probably saved my life.

You may wonder, How do you make a perfectly good horse into a monster? Do you beat it? Starve it? Taunt it? Maybe that would do it, too, but guess what else does?

Spoiling it.

When I came back to horses, after a ten year hiatus, life had beaten me down--I was just a shadow of my former self as a young woman. I definitely didn't need a horse beating me down, too, so I tried to make friends with my horses--a non-confrontational approach, you could say. I hoped they'd love and respect me because I loved and respected them.

What I came to find out is spoiling a horse isn't respecting it. Spoiling a child isn't respecting him/her. Spoiling a husband isn't respecting him. Acting like a monster to a horse isn't respecting it. Acting like a monster to a child isn't respecting him/her. Maybe, just maybe, the answer to good people and horse skills lay somewhere in between spoiling and acting like a monster. Maybe I could get what I needed and wanted, and what was best for the horses, another way.

This is how it would look in practice--a real-life example from my What Not To Do annals:

I'd be walking my horse from the outdoor turnout to the stall--a distance of about 1000 feet. My horse would be on a lead--I'd have it somewhat tight (like I was controlling him with my strength) and he'd move ahead of me a small bit--his shoulder slightly in front with his ears pinned back. In this position, I felt like I still "had" him--I was almost to the stalls--and I wasn't going to make any waves because I didn't want another "fight" in my life.

Enter my trainer:

She's also walking a horse back from another direction. Her rope is slack and the STALLION is walking behind her, relaxed, head down, eyes wide and gentle. She stops. The stallion stops. She sees me. She yells at me. Do you see him disrespecting you?!? Don't let him do that!!

I look at my horse, who is now looking at her. He knows who she is, and when she's around, he starts acting better. Huh? What? I think.

So, I can't just sing Kumbya with my horse and have peace? Shoot! I'm actually going to have to look at him with my peripheral vision and watch for these signs? It seems so nit-picky!

Wrong. When I finally started taking her advice, opening my eyes to see when my horse was challenging me, I could correct him with a gentle strength--not a display of fake prowess--and, after time, as my courage and my self-preservation increased, his trust in me increased. A couple years later, my horse was and still is walking behind me on a loose rein, head low, eyes gentle. Today, I feel like I do surprisingly little to correct any of my horses because what I do DO is early and appropriate.

So, I can't wait to see the movie. I know I'm going to LOVE it and learn a lot from it, and there's little I love in life as much as learning about horses.


  1. Hi Linda - Riagan has won a little award. Come visit!

  2. I love reading about your parallels between horses and real life. I'm reading Susan Richards' next memoir (she wrote Chosen By A Horse). This one is called Saddled, I don't know if you've seen it yet. It's different than her first, going off more in the direction of her recovering from alcoholism thanks to one of her horses, but it's just as engaging.

  3. Thank you, Wolfie!!

    Joanne--I haven't heard of her new book until now. I'll check that out. I really liked Chosen by a Horse.

  4. Linda,
    Thank you for posting this. Immediately, several "horsepeople" I know come to mind who are going to get hurt badly by their horses if they don't learn to read them and take control of them.

  5. Fantastic post. I'm looking forward to reading more here! Thank you for posting about the movie- I've been out of "the loop" enough the past couple years that I had no clue there was anything of the sort coming out. Can't wait to see it!

    Thanks for your wise words. I can only hope and pray many more people are able to take a look at their relationships with their horse(s) before they get hurt.

  6. Gun Diva--it's a hard thing to teach someone--very hard--and sometimes, very time consuming. I had the advantage of every day interaction with her (my trainer had grown up on a tough working ranch--married a farrier--trained since she was 12--she was tough as NAILS, but when you got a horse back from her, you got a HORSE) I respected her, and I wanted to learn. Also, I was told one time, you're going to get a lot of advice about horses from different people, but pick one that you respect. Think, who would I most want in a bad situation? I chose her, and I chose well. I only wish everyone had someone like her to learn from....hey, maybe Buck?!?

  7. Mrs Mom--I have great respect for you from your comments and visit to Gun Diva. So, thank you. I still have a lot to learn, but I'm thankful for my friend who taught me what she did. Any wise words I have, come mostly from her, but she's a quiet person and doesn't do computers at all.

    I'm really looking foward to this movie, too. I think it's too late in coming. Why didn't they do this before?!?

  8. I should clarify my "tough as nails" comment because I think it could be taken wrong as physical coercion or meanness, and that is NOT what I'm talking about with this trainer. Tough as nails, when I use it, means she's out there day in, day out, rain, snow or shine, every day except Sunday. She's putting in the time. This trainer, if you watch her, is the quietest, steadiest, calmest person. Most horses are immediately drawn to her and she has a quiet, gentleness with them that they respond to. It's almost impossible to describe unless you see it in action--many of the great trainers have it--Brannaman, Lyons, Anderson, Lauman, etc. You know it, when you see it. These people, too, are so quiet natured, they aren't always good with human words, so they don't know how to market themselves and probably wouldn't want to.

  9. I loved this post so much, I linked my blog to it. Hope you don't mind :)

    You wrote it so well, I wouldn't have been able to do the same topic justice.

    I agree with your "tough as nails" comment.

  10. Thanks, Gun Diva--and I just went to your site an added a disclaimer. I do not want people to get the idea I think I'm an expert, because I am in no way, shape or form an expert. I've learned everything (or almost everything the hard way). I was told the craziest, wackiest, stupidest stuff through the years--ay yi yi, I can't even tell you...well, I another post someday--The Craziest s**t I've Ever Heard About Horses post....Coming Soon!

  11. Good and timely post- I'm working with one of my fillies on some of these issues.

  12. You are ME! Or I am YOU! I literally had to give my first horse away because after the drugs wore off (her, not me), I was far too intimidated to handle her challenging me.

    Now I can't wait to see that movie too!

  13. Shirley--good luck with your filly!

    Rachel--That's crappy about your horse. If it had to be drugged to get a sale, you probably did the absolute right thing by selling her! Better off safe than sorry!

  14. Oh dude-- I bet we could all do a whole series together on the crazy sh*t we've heard about horses....!!

    Keep up the good work Linda.

  15. thanks for posting about this documentary. now I can't wait to see it too!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  16. I LOVE THIS POST!! :-)
    You have put words to all of it so well.
    I too almost turned my horse into a monster, in all the ways you describe. Having to stand my ground, for love of him, made me stand my ground in all my other relationships and strengthened me for life in general. Now I am doing brave things that I'd never have considered before. Amen~! :-)

  17. Great post, Linda. I haven't heard mention of Buck Brannaman in a while. One of the true legends of horse training, I think.

    I am always worried when I see or hear people tolerating poor behavior from their horses. So many think it is kindness but it is really the opposite. Allowing a horse to be disrepsectful sets that horse up to fail in the human/equine relationship. There is nothing kind about that.

    I'm fortunate to have met an old cowboy who taught me how to be successful with my horses in ways safe for them and me. While I didn't get ongoing time with this man, the time I did get was at the perfect place in my development as a horsewoman for me to soak it all up like a sponge. It filled in my understanding of horses in such a way both my confidence and my ability grew epodentially. I will always be grateful for crossing paths with him.

  18. Buck is awesome! Here from Gun Diva. Great post! I'm not sure if he still lives in Kaycee, Wyoming, but he and his lovely wife used to do horse clinics at a reasonable price. You might see if he still has a website online.

  19. Momma Fargo--he is coming to a town pretty near me at the end of July--Dayton, WA. I'm thinking I might like to audit it.

  20. Linda, I didn't realize you were form WA and I had no idea there was a Dayton in Wa. Now I know there are actually three Daytons in Wa if you can believe that. Was thinking I might like to attend too but first I need to know WHERE!! Is there information somewhere I can find on this??

  21. Mikael--are you in WA? This Dayton is in between Lewiston and Walla Walla--at least I hope that's the Dayton--it's the one I thought they meant and I think he's been there before. A friend told me about it, and I found it on the Buck Brannaman site. We're thinking about getting some people together to audit--but I need to get the details. Here's the link: That would be fun if you attended--I'd get to meet you. Everyone has said that he's a really kind guy who isn't into the showy stuff or marketing himself--but this documentary has brought a lot of attention to him from people who wouldn't normally be inclined to listen--so I hope he still makes it to little 'ol Dayton!

  22. Yes, Linda, I am in WA but the other side of the mountains. The Dayton by Walla Wall is one that I found but it is the farthest from where I live. Mapquest said 4.5 hours to get there so staying overnight would have to be part of my plan. Not sure if I will be able to afford that or not. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

    I'll check out the webiste. The zip code of Dayton will answer the question of which one. I would love to see him.

    My friend Harvey speaks highly of him. I'd like to be half the horseperson that Harvey is so Buck gets high regards just from Harvey's reference. If what everyone says is right, he won't be inflated by publicity. Time will tell, I guess.

  23. I think there's one in Spanaway--not sure about the spelling--by Olympia. It would probably be much closer for you.

    You're probably right about Buck--and I hear his wife is great, too. There's nothing like a good wife and horses to keep a man humble--or broke--or both.

  24. Linda, I have to correct you.....not every trainer is like Buck. There are many who follow his principals, but there are soooo many more who still do it the old fashioned "cowboy up" way. I have one horse that is living proof of that. It has taken a year to get him to trust me.
    You are very lucky to have someone close to you who understands what training really is.
    Love your blog!

  25. Hi Cindy. I had forgotten about this blog post. Since this, I actually have seen the movie a few times. Whew! The build-up and wait was too long. It was a wonderful movie. I agree about trainers....I think, or I hope, I was referring to the big name trainers of our day following many of his principals...and/or those of Ray Hunt. But the timing, strength, compassion, gentleness, and feel for "release" is hard to teach. Seeing the movie really brought that home to me--and I have GREAT respect for Brannaman after seeing him in action. Good luck getting your horse to trust you; it's a worthy, but sometimes difficult, goal.

    1. **principles** just woke up from a post-ride nap. I should not type responses in somnolent states! I don't usually nap in the afternoons, but my husband was gone the last couple of nights and that always wrecks my sleep-life. Throw in a morning trail ride and you get zzzzzz's.


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