Learn About Self Through the Horse – And the Formation of Others

Why offer this in a blog oriented to relationality and the acting person? Because Jesus Christ is not  simply a religious figure but The Prototypical Acting Person and pure ontological relation to the Father: “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6, 38). As center of the physical-personal cosmos, everything is tied together in Jesus Christ. It is shouted out in scripture: Colossians 1, 15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible… All things have been created through and unto him… and in him all things hold together. For it has pleased God the Father that in him all his fullness should dwell and that through him he chould reconcile to himself all things….” And in John 1, 4, we find “The Word became flesh.” And then in Luke 24, 39: “Feel me and see’! Robert Barron expatiates: “Individuals, societies, cultures, animals, plants, planets and the stars – all will be drawn into an eschatological harmony through him. Mind you, Jesus is not merely the symbol of an intelligibiity, coherence, and reconciliation that can exist apart from him; rather, he is the active and indispensable means by which these realities come to be. This Jesus, in short, is the all-embracing, all-including Lord of whatever is to be found in the dimensions of time and space” (R. Barron, “The Priority of Christ,” Brazos [2007] 134-135). 

In “Laudato Si,'” Pope Francis writes: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence,there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us,that ‘contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatuaresr outside ourselves.” (233)

Buck Brannaman

Buck Brannaman at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Dan M. “Buck” Brannaman (born January 29, 1962)[1] is a horse trainer and a leading practitioner within the field of natural horsemanship, which is a philosophy of working with horses based on the idea of working with the horse’s nature, using an understanding of how horses think and communicate to train the horse to accept humans and work confidently and responsively with them. One of Brannaman’s stated goals is to make the animal feel safe and secure around humans so that the horse and rider can achieve a true union.[2

Brannaman was born in 1962 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and raised in Montana and Idaho. Brannaman was for many years a disciple of Ray Hunt, one of the founders of the natural horsemanship movement, and also inspired by Tom and Bill Dorrance. Brannaman now teaches clinics worldwide. About the clinics, he has noted, “the goal for clinics really is to just try to get the human being to understand as much about their horse as I can help them to understand.”[3]

Brannaman had a difficult childhood, characterized by considerable child abuse at the hands of his father, to the extent that he and his brother spent a number of years in foster care placement.[4] He took solace in horses, and learned from his own experiences, to look at a situation from the point of view of the horse. Brannaman has written:

“I’ve started horses since I was 12 years old and have been bit, kicked, bucked off and run over. I’ve tried every physical means to contain my horse in an effort to keep from getting myself killed. I started to realize that things would come much easier for me once I learned why a horse does what he does.” [5]

He later used these experiences in his career as a horse trainer, recognizing in difficult animals the same fear (my emphasis) and hostile reactions he remembered from his own childhood:

“Abused horses are like abused children. They trust no one and expect the worst. But patience, leadership, compassion and firmness can help them overcome their pasts.”[6]

In recent years, he has become a motivational speaker for groups outside of the horse world,[7] frequently describing the connection between animal abuse and abuse of children and other human beings.[6] “For me, these principles are really about life,” says Brannaman, “about living your life so that you’re not making war with the horse, or with other people.”[2]

Brannaman is also a skilled trick roper, having performed rope tricks in television commercials since he was six years old.[4]For his roping abilities, Brannaman also holds two spots in the Guinness Book of World Records.[7] Though Brannaman has said, “my dad gave us the choice of practicing roping tricks or getting whipped,”[6] he still takes pride in his skill, offers roping and cattle working clinics, and retains a close connection to the historic vaquero cowboy tradition of the western United States.[8]

Recent life and career

Brannaman was one of the primary individuals who inspired the character of “Tom Booker” in the Nicholas Evans novel The Horse Whisperer, and was the lead equine consultant for the film of the same name. Though the book itself was a work of fiction, Evans himself said:

“Others have falsely claimed to be the inspiration for Tom Booker in The Horse Whisperer. The one who truly inspired me was Buck Brannaman. His skill, understanding and his gentle, loving heart have parted the clouds for countless troubled creatures. Buck is the Zen master of the horse world.”[9]Nicholas Evans

The publicity from the book and movie, along with Brannaman’s approach to treating troubled horses and troubled humans with equal doses of compassion, has helped promote other fields such as therapeutic horseback riding.[10] In that context, Brannaman has noted, “Horses are incredibly forgiving. They fill in places we’re not capable of filling ourselves. They’ve given people a new hope, a new lease on life. A horse really wants to please you, to get along.”[11] Brannaman lives with his wife, Mary, in Sheridan, Wyoming. He has three daughters.

A documentary about Brannaman called Buck, [we saw this last night 5/30/16] directed by Cindy Meehl, won the U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.[12] It was purchased by IFC Films under their Sundance Selections label.[13]

Further to the documentary “Buck” a series of DVDs has been produced entitled “7 Clinics” which together with his earlier DVD series creates a comprehensive library of his horsemanship.

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