Don’t Panic has a chat with Buck Brannaman, a true American cowboy and horse whisperer who travels around America helping horses with people problems. We talk about the royals, the media and the new documentary about his life.
Think of “horse training” and it conjures up images of whips, shackles and harsh discipline. Buck Brannaman - the man who the novel and film The Horse Whisperer was based upon - prefers to approach horse training the same way he approaches all areas of his life and that is with honesty, respect and kindness. I was nervous about interviewing the cowboy everyone’s been going on about. However, five minutes in and his lilting Midwestern tone and unassuming manner has got me so at ease, so completely engaged, that I suddenly understand Buck’s gift in it’s entirety. We chat about the queens horses, the media and the new documentary about Buck’s life, entitled Buck.
How do you feel about all the media attention?
It was a lot more than what I thought it would be. Typically, a documentary might get played on PBS a couple of times but it turned out to be a big deal. Boy, they’ve kept me busy.
Are you as intuitive with other animals in the way you are with horses?
I’ve grown up around stock dogs what with working on ranches but my expertise has been on horses because that’s what I’ve spent my life studying. I approach things philosophically the same way but I do that with people as well.
So do you feel there are parallels with human relations and horse relations? Say, bringing up your children?
Yeah, it’s pretty much the same really. Sometimes as a parent you know what’s best because you’ve had more experience and you have to forbid them from doing something that could get them hurt.
Were there many clinics like yours before you started yours?
Not really. My teacher (Ray Hunt) was doing clinics before me and when I started he was virtually the only one doing clinics and then it was just he and I. Now, especially since The Horse Whisperer, there are tons of them. A lot of them are salesman and into the commercial part of it. They’ll have their own store and their own logo, ball caps and t-shirts, tube socks and everything else but it’s almost like the horse was left out of it. Not all of them are that way but there sure is a lot.
You also said in the documentary, about one of your clinics “there was no crying this time”. Do people often get emotional during your clinics?
People get very wrapped up in their horses and a lot of emotions come to the surface. There is a lot of self-discovery and when working with the horses a lot of things are revealed about oneself. Sometimes that can be a little bit hard to swallow. It’s always the family joke. They say “Did you make anybody cry today?” and I always say “No, but I helped a couple.”
From what I saw in the documentary, you had a very tough childhood. You often hear of the abused turning into the abuser. How do you think you turned out to be such a compassionate and empathetic person?
I realised at an early age that people automatically accept that if you come from a dark childhood you’re probably going to do the same thing as your parents did. I didn’t like the sound of that so it was always in the back of my mind that I was going to prove them wrong. You have an opportunity to make choices and at some point in time, for me, it is no longer acceptable to blame somebody else for whatever it is you are and I just tried to make the right choices. They may not have always been great but they been a hell lot better choices than my Dad ever made.
Have you seen the Queens horses whilst you’ve been here?
No, horses are horses. John Steinbeck wrote something about that. He was pondering why it seemed common that in Royal families there was a heritage and interest in horses. He reckoned that it was because of the honesty of the horse. If you grow up as a prince you are surrounded by people that are agreeing with everything you say. Steinbeck said “The horse will buck off a prince just as he will his groom.” The horse doesn’t care how much power or influence you have, how rich or how poor, how attractive you are. The horse responds according to how you make it feel. Maybe it’s the honesty about the relationship that’s drawn the Royal family toward horses.
“Buck” is a truly moving documentary. How did you feel when you watched the final footage?
It was hard for me to watch, to be honest with you. My foster mum is getting old. She just had a birthday and she’s 89… That last slide of me and her walking away holding hands… man, that’s about all I can do to watch it. She’s been so special to me and to a lot of people and I’m so sentimental about it I can’t hardly watch it.