Horse Whisperer: The Gentle Healing of Dan “Buck” Brannaman

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Recently my 7-year old son and I attended a special presentation of Buck at our local theatre. Buck is an award-winning documentary based on the life of Dan “Buck” Brannaman, renowned horseman, equine clinic instructor, author, and the inspiration for Robert Redford’s character in the 1998 movie, The Horse Whisperer.

Following the documentary, the man himself, one hand in his Wrangler jeans pocket, took to the stage for Q&A. While most of the questions centered on the film and tinsel town, I was curious about the boy who suffered unimaginable trauma at the hands of his father, yet who now stood before us as a leader, both inside and outside of the arena.

Answers soon became clear in his treatment of riders and their horses.

Over the four days I attended Buck’s clinic, he instructed three sets of twenty horse and rider pairs each day. I watched with countless others from the bleachers and learned that his style deals with more than knowing about one's horse, it's also about knowing one's own fears and motivations. I filled forty pages with notes and snapped 250 pictures, all in an effort to take home just a fraction of his instruction.

Since the mid-June release of the film, Buck has crisscrossed the country multiple times and has been sought out for print, television, and on-line media forums. I caught up with him on his lunch break where he graciously granted me his 400th interview. We sat in the shade of a trailer, him on a lawn chair eating a burger and me on the grass, kneeling and fiddling with a tape recorder. I scribbled away in my notebook.


Simply Darlene: I’ve heard it stated that you help horses with people problems. What’s the most common “people problem” that you see?

Buck: Oh, not being able to think like a horse. (laughing) Not being able to understand themselves or their horses. And the people end up afraid, frustrated, or angry.

Simply Darlene: Do you think God made people for horses or horses for people?

Buck: I think both; He made them for each other.

Simply Darlene: So, how does your answer fit into the puzzle of making that man and horse relationship work?

Buck: We have to make changes to fit in. The horse is here to serve us, to be a partner, providing we do the right thing by the horse. It’s almost as if you treat the horse as a gift from God and then you show some appreciation of the horse by the way you treat him.

Simply Darlene: What should a person consider when establishing a trusting relationship with his or her horse?

Buck: You need to consider where the horse is coming from. What makes the horse afraid?

Simply Darlene: Have you found that the same thing applies to person-to-person relationships as well?

Buck: Yes. You need to get a feel for a person and their baggage. Are they unsure, afraid, or aggressive? Do they have a temper? I am not there (pointing to the arena) to judge anybody, just to help.

Simply Darlene: There are a lot of people who want to help. What sets you apart from others?

Buck: (taps his boots, rubs his hand against the chair) Oh, I guess I don’t really think of it like that. I just kinda do my own thing. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about everyone else. That would probably be a question a lot of them would be eager to answer. (laughing and pointing off into the wild blue yonder) That’s probably what makes me different.

Simply Darlene: Some would call that humility.

Buck: Yeah, a little bit of that doesn’t hurt.

Simply Darlene: Why do you think the documentary Buck has been so popular even with non-horse people?

Buck: The same things, the same truths apply to everyone in everyday life. It’s all about kinship. The intent all along with the documentary has been to appeal to the non-horseman.

Simply Darlene: What’s the legacy you want to leave? Does it have more to do with horses or with people?

Buck: Oh, probably a little bit of both. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about a legacy I want to leave cause I don’t really want to leave all that quick.

Simply Darlene: Yes, but what about all the clinics you conduct, the footsteps you leave, and the impact you make on people’s lives?

Buck: Sometimes one individual might get more out of it. It might be more human issues. Or some may learn to get along a little better with their horse. Everybody gets something different.

Simply Darlene: In your book, The Faraway Horses, you refer to what you do as “a calling and a mission” that you must fulfill. If you weren’t paid a dime for teaching others what you know, would you still do it?

Buck: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. It’s not only all I know, it’s all I am interested in.


In the last session of the clinic’s final day, thirteen horse and rider pairs entered the arena for instruction. Buck rode in and went to work. This time, however, something was different because we all knew it was the last go ‘round with this renowned teacher until next year.

All eyes fixed on him and his horse. Silence, otherwise foreign to the clinic, hung heavy, clipped to the heat and dust. I could feel the sweat drip down my back, but I ignored the intolerable humidity. I was awe-struck.

Riders, quiet and still, leaned on saddle horns. Spectators gripped the metal edges of their seats. The only thing I could hear was dirt as it fell from his horse’s feet, and I could not tell where the man stopped and the horse began.

Image and interview by Simply Darlene. Used with permission.