Friday, April 6, 2012


R. from the barn recommended this to me, and while it took me a few days of evening watching on Netflix to get through, I finished it last night. (No fault of the documentary - my life is such that it's rare for me to get a half-hour at a time to watch TV or Netflix.)

Overall, it was a very well-done documentary that told its story effectively and touchingly. The director seemed to know that Buck Brannaman's personality was intriguing and charismatic enough to carry the whole film, and let him talk for long chunks of time. He comes across as a truly extraordinary person who's risen above a horrific childhood to develop a real gift for handling horses.

The second half of the documentary packed more emotional punch than the first half, with two "storylines": the sorrel stud colt and Buck's relationship with his daughter, Reata.

The scenes of the colt were utterly heartbreaking. I never caught his name, but he was (is?) a three year old who was pulled from his dead mother and breathed back to life, and the vets figured that he started his life with some oxygen deprivation and brain damage. That's a tough way to start, but his owner then brought him into the house to bottle feed, never gelded him, and stopped handling him before he turned a year old, turning him out with her entire herd of uncut studs. Flash forward to three years later and she has a horse that, as Buck stated, is as near to a predator as a horse can get.

I won't spoil the ending of his story, but it was hard to watch. Really hard. Thankfully, no words were minced about how the owner had created the situation and would go on making it worse unless she stepped up and took some responsibility for the danger she had put everyone else in.

The scenes digging into the relationship between Buck and Reata were equally emotional, for a different reason. I was especially struck when Buck mused, watching his daughter, that she was so much like him, and that he was looking at the child that he might have been, had he not been so systematically abused by his father.

In terms of the horsemanship involved, I didn't necessarily agree with everything he did, but I never found fault with his basic approach: soft, gentle, patient, and unemotional. He was firm when he needed to be and gave when he needed to. It was lovely to watch him ride and handle his own horses with soft, fluid motion. One theme that the documentary hit perhaps a bit too hard was that he was dramatically different from every other horse trainer, which is...not true. Good classical horsemanship has all the same elements he uses. I can appreciate that in the Western horse world he represents a dramatic alternate path, but with a broader lens, he is part of a long tradition.

At only 88 minutes, it's a quick watch, and it's available on Netflix streaming. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in horses and horse people.

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