Unless you’re a bit more into horses and training them than the average human, you probably aren’t aware that you’ve ever heard of Buck Branaman. Unless you’re considerably less into movies or are somewhat younger than the average American, you probably have heard of him but didn’t know it.
He was Robert Redford’s model for the title role of the movie The Horse Whisperer as well as technical adviser on the film. He may well be the most renowned horse trainer in the world, conducting over two hundred clinics each year all over the United States and in other countries as well. As part of our celebration this past weekend of our 24th anniversary, Randa and I decided to attend a clinic he was conducting at Elkhorn, just west of Omaha, Nebraska.
During the lunch break on Friday, we talked with a younger middle-aged couple from south central South Dakota. I commented that Buck seemed to be exactly the same in person as he appeared in the documentaries and training videos. The man replied, “I don’t think there’s a false bone in his body.”
It is probably that one characteristic that is as remarkable as Buck’s ability to teach a horse to respond to one-finger pressure on a thirty-foot rope. It is as much a part of him as his uncanny capacity to use the slight lean of his body to direct a horse forward or backward. In one documentary clip, he sits in a chair as he holds a loose rope connected to a horse’s halter. Without moving from the chair, using only his light touch on the rope, he gets the horse to step into a horse trailer nearly forty feet away from him.
But what impresses me even more than that is his capacity to see right into people and to almost instantly “hear” beyond the words and expressions. And without the least bit of meanness, he speaks blunt truths that carry the capacity to change not only the way they ride and treat horses but also the way they live their lives. Certainly, he irritates the proud and stubborn, but to those whose desire to learn exceeds their ego, he offers wisdom that goes deeper than the hide and hair of the outer persona.
Whether watching his videos, reading his books or seeing him in person, there is something that consistently moves me. As I comprehend his way of working with people or horses and listen to his insights, I am moved again and again. And I am reminded of Randa. As I have seen her firm gentleness and incredible patience with people and animals and her constant loyalty and generosity toward family over the past twenty-four years, she has helped me move beyond my deeply rooted angers and selfishness.
It seems entirely appropriate for Randa and me to celebrate our years of marriage together by attending a Buck Branaman horse clinic. They both make me want to be a better person.