2011-10-10

“Buck (2011)” – of horses and men

Buck” is a documentary about Buck Brennaman, the main inspiration of the book “The Horse Whisperer”. It offers interesting insights into horses and humans.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Brannaman was one the primary individuals who inspired the character of "Tom Booker" in the Nicholas Evans novel The Horse Whisperer, and was the lead equine consultant for the film of the same name. Though the book itself was a work of fiction, Evans himself said:
"Others have falsely claimed to be the inspiration for Tom Booker in The Horse Whisperer. The one who truly inspired me was Buck Brannaman. His skill, understanding and his gentle, loving heart have parted the clouds for countless troubled creatures. Buck is the Zen master of the horse world."–Nicholas Evans
Things of note in the movie:
  • Brennaman quote: “I don’t help people with horse problems, I help horses with people problems”. He says horses are mirrors into their owners’ souls. And sees it as his responsibility to point that out when an owner doesn’t like what they see in the mirror.
  • The traditional way of preparing horses for being ridden is to break them, to break their will. Brennaman teaches an effective alternative to that abusive method. The parallels to how we still practice education are interesting, especially the first school years still partially seem to be about breaking children. Note that this does not mean advocating non-authoritarianism and laissez-faire – just respect for someone’s nature. One saying that Brennaman quotes in the movie is:
    Gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it.
    He encourages predictability and respect, but also taking control. He compares handling horses to raising children – as a parent, you cannot always be their best friend.
  • Brennaman on building trust with a horse:
    The way I do these colt classes, you’ll have to get them exposed to a lot of things that seem perfectly normal to you, but it doesn’t seem normal to the horse. You walk up to them, smelling like a Big Mac [for which an animal just like a horse was killed] or something. Your diet can make you smell different to the horse. And then you are going to tell the horse: “Don’t worry, I want to crawl on you.” In a similar posture to how a Lion would attack and kill a horse. They jump right up in the middle of them, and they reach their front claws around, and as they’re biting down on their spine, they’re cutting their throat with their claws. You’re asking the horse to let you be in that posture and crawl on him. And then about the time he says “all right, maybe”. And then you say: “Oh, one more thing: I want to strap some hides of other dead animals around you, before I crawl on you.” You damn sure have to have some trust. He's got to believe in you to let you do that. And amazingly enough, they’ll let you do it.
  • Brennaman does not seem to like dogs. This is interesting, as horses are more about emotions than about intelligence. Brennaman had to overcome a difficult childhood with an abusive father. It feels like working with horses helped him do that.
  • There is a lineage of people teaching a gentler way of dealing with horses: Tom Dorrance started it, Ray Hunt continued it and inspired Buck Brennaman to become a teacher, too.

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