Buck Brannaman has been branded a horse whisperer, based on his ability to work with horses without resorting to the traditional means of “breaking” the animals. He calls his technique “starting.” For lack of a better, more marketable term, that indeed sums up what he teaches. Brannaman helps owners “start” to develop a mutually beneficial working relationship with their horses that is rooted in trust and respect and the awareness of the largely unspoken bond between the two living beings that must exist.
Brannaman travels 40 weeks a year across the United States. He is more of a counselor or psychologist rather than a “whisperer,” and his real subjects are the people paying for these sessions, not the horses. The film captures Brannaman in a series of sessions, preaching and embodying his mannered Southern philosophy. He is a modern-day cowboy, complete with the 10-gallon hat, the boots and the chaps, and again this almost New Age take on training humans and animals to work together.
The film hints at Brannaman’s dark past, the inspiration for his code, and when it is revealed that Brannaman and his brother were abused by their father after their mother’s death, everything comes full circle.
Everyone who works with Buck knows his story and appreciates how it makes him the perfect trainer, but, more importantly, they understand that it has started him on the path to being a better human being. He doesn’t see the horses as pets or beasts of burden; they are living creatures worthy of certain inalienable rights and respect. It should be noted, though, that there are moments, real moments, which will call into question his approach as part of more complex dynamic. How do you stand before ethical and personal challenges where the well-being and fate of another living creature are at stake?
“Buck” is about overcoming fear and pain, breaking free of a cycle of suffering. It offers an example of a man who figured out how to start over and helps others to do the same.