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A Day with the Horse Whisperer
June 04, 2012

Several weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday in New River, Arizona, I had the privilege of spending the day with the cowboy who inspired the book and movie, “The Horse Whisperer.” Buck Branaman is also the focus of the award-winning documentary, “Buck,” which follows him around the country as he conducts a series of horse clinics. Essentially a one-man operation based out of his ranch near Sheridan, Wyoming, Buck is in demand around the world by people drawn to his philosophy of “natural horsemanship.”
Buck Branaman,
the Horse Whisperer

He has a passion for seeing things the horse’s way, for working with a horse’s nature, for teaching people how horse’s think and communicate. As Nicholas Evans, author of “The Horse Whisperer,” has said, “(Buck’s) skill, understanding and gentle, loving heart have parted the clouds for countless troubled creatures. Buck is the Zen master of the horse world.”

There was no doubt about it. The man knows horses. Knows how to find their holes and is full of sound advice:
On how to fix them: “You need to give a horse a chance to make a poor choice. It’s how they learn. They’re like kids that way. Then you make it difficult for them to do the wrong thing. And don’t quit this side of succeeding, just because you may doubt yourself.”
On how to sit in the saddle: “Keep yourself in balance. Keep your feet in the right position. Throw your toes out and keep your heels down. That way, if something happens, say he walks past a dead cow and spooks, you don’t become a lawn dart.”
On what it takes to be successful: “Working with horses, there’s an ebb and flow to progress. You’ll go from euphoria to despair. From thinking, ‘I’m God’s gift to equines,’ to ‘I don’t know why I bother living.’ It’s all part of learning to work with horses.”
On what it takes to be a failure: “Horses aren’t lazy by nature. But if you’re an undisciplined rider you can make them dull and inattentive and enable bad habits.”

Many of his insights apply to people as well as horses. In that regard, his clinics are full of life lessons. “Don’t put limitations on what it takes to be a good hand. Do it till it’s done. Whether you’re fixing a fence or shoveling crap, most people do till it’s hard for them and then they quit. We live in a quitting culture. Don’t do that.”

Not that there isn’t a place for firmness when it comes to training. “Do less than what it takes to get the job done. And if that doesn’t work, do whatever it takes.”

Throughout the clinic he would ask, “Any questions?”

I had one, but saved it for the lunch break. Looking around at those who had brought their horses to the clinic, as well as the crowd of spectators, I had noticed the women in attendance outnumbered the men by a significant margin. I wondered why he thought that was the case. His laconic response was what you’d expect from the Horse Whisperer. “The same reason women are the ones who will ask for directions when they’re lost, and a man won’t.”

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