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Learning horsemanship and humanship

Buck Brannaman, inspiration for "The Horse Whisperer," is hosting a four-day horsemanship clinic starting Friday in Eagle. You can watch and learn. Tickets are $25. A new documentary about Brannaman opens Friday in local theaters.
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“Your horse is a window into your soul. Sometimes, you won’t like what you see. Sometimes, you will.”

And with that, Buck Brannaman, inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer” and trainer of horses and humans, climbs into his saddle and the magic begins.

Both Brannaman and the new documentary movie about him will be here this weekend.



Brannaman is hosting a four-day horsemanship clinic in the Eagle River Center at the Eagle County Fairgrounds. You can watch, and if you’re paying attention, you might learn something.

The award-winning documentary film about him, “Buck,” opens in local theaters today. There’s a meet and greet at 5:30 p.m. today at the Dusty Boot in Eagle, across the street from the Capitol Theatre.

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Horses and humans

Brannaman has conducted horsemanship clinics for 29 years. He’s been bringing his clinics to Eagle for 21 years.

Training horses and humans isn’t all that different, it turns out.



“You’re teaching people to understand the horse, how he thinks and what he responds to. Put him in a position where he can learn instead of being intimidated and fearful,” Brannaman said. “Most people, if they’re paying attention, can apply the same things to their everyday life.”

Horses and humans tend to want the same things – peace and comfort, Brannaman said.

“What the horse values the most – peace and comfort – is what you have to trade with him to get him to do what you want him to do,” Brannaman said.

If that seems uncomplicated, it is.

“It can be a perfect relationship. You can give the horse what he wants most in this world, and the horse will do anything for you,” Brannaman said.

And you need to end a session properly.

“It’s like dating. That last two minutes of the date can be a deal-breaker,” Brannaman said.

Brannaman is who he has always been, just a guy running horse clinics, teaching people about horses and themselves – and not necessarily in that order.

“Instead of helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems,” Brannaman says in the movie’s opening line.

Now, it seems like he’s a big deal because he taught some people in the movie business to handle horses properly – the same things he’s been teaching in his clinics for decades.

“He’s just Buck. This is what he does,” said Moni Howard, who’s helping host the clinic in Eagle.

“We’ve been doing this clinic for 21 years. He was always somebody, but nobody knew it,” Howard said.

Now they do.

“Buck” won the Peoples Choice award at the Sundance Film Festival. Academy Award nominations are likely, critics say.

Brannaman remains mostly unaffected by it all.

When he worked with Robert Redford in filming “The Horse Whisperer,” Brannaman said he learned a couple of things.

“When you start believing your own press, you’re in trouble,” he said.

Cindy Meehl is a fashion designer and artist and was in a couple of Buck’s clinics and felt compelled to tell the story. She insisted she was learning things working with horses that would appeal to people.

“She caught me at the right moment, and I told her to go ahead and do it. Normally, I would have told her to make a documentary but leave me out of it,” Brannaman said.

And so we have “Buck,” an American story about an ordinary man who has made an extraordinary life, despite tremendous odds – a quiet cowboy philosopher to whom people and horses listen.

The documentary follows Brannaman, a former trick roper who overcame a painful childhood to become something of a shaman, who transforms equine delinquents into a animals you’d be proud to have as friends.

He grew up hard under his father’s iron hand in Idaho and Montana. He began learning rope tricks at 3 years old and performing with his brother around the country at fairs and rodeos and in a Sugar Pops commercial. Practice was mandatory, and their father whipped them if they didn’t, although we learn in the film that he didn’t really need a reason.

Brannaman was in his early 20s when he happened upon a clinic with Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance. They pioneered natural horsemanship, a gentle training method.

Brannaman embraced the method and went forth to spread the good news that you don’t have to beat or be harsh to your horses – or your children or one another – to partner with them.

Good news, indeed.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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