Movie Review: Buck

Buck is a documentary about Dan “Buck” Brannaman, who makes his living touring around the American west most of the year and teaching folks how to train horses. My husband found this DVD at the library and I was interested to see how a real “horse whisperer” works his magic. It’s clear from the beginning that he is truly a committed and sensitive man, who has a deep connection with the animals he helps and the people he inspires.


As a kid in Montana and Idaho, Buck was a trick rope performer. This wasn’t by choice; his father trained both him and his brother to perform rope tricks. If they didn’t perform, they would be whipped. This was a pattern throughout his childhood, and Buck soon retreated into himself as a way to deal with the pain. His father physically abused both him and his brother for years, until their mother passed away and the local sheriff found out about the abuse. Soon after, when Buck was 12, the boys were placed with a foster family where they were given a safe haven and allowed to finally be kids. Buck’s foster dad taught him to shoe horses and it was with this family that Buck blossomed.

When Buck was older, he went to a horse training session hosted by Ray Hunt. Ray’s philosophy of horse training significantly influenced Buck, and his style of horse communication was first learned from Ray.

“A lot of times rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems.” —Buck Brannaman

I was intrigued watching Buck show compassion and empathy towards the horses he trained. I could tell by the reaction of the people who attend his clinics that they were equally, if not more, impressed by Buck’s ability to relate to the fear of their horses. Buck equated the fear the horses have for people with the fear he had as a child for his father.

“When something is scared for their life, I understand that.”

Buck was one of the people who helped to inspire the character of Tom Booker in the Nicholas Evan’s novel, The Horse Whisperer, which eventually became a movie of the same name. As we see in this documentary, Robert Redford was a bit skeptical when he first met Buck (he thought he was dressed in a costume), but he soon came to realize that Brannaman is the “real deal.” Buck eventually became an advisor on The Horse Whisperer movie.

I was completely engaged in this movie, from beginning to end. I watched Buck handle the horses with ease, completely mesmerized with his affinity to show them respect and love and see their gentle responses to him. There is a short rodeo scene in which he and his daughter roped cattle, but other than that there was little violence shown on the screen. The stories about his father’s abuse and Buck’s attempt to help Kelly, a young stud, were the most heartbreaking for me to watch. While I would have loved for him to move past the cattle roping, I’m still encouraged that someone with so many obstacles to overcome has managed to create such a positive environment for horses (of course, I hope he can take it a step further someday and see the violence we perpetuate towards the cattle as well).

Buck won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. It’s an inspiring story about overcoming one’s past and making the present a compassionate place for all horsekind.

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