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Buck: movie review

In the graceful documentary 'Buck,' compassion wins with horse trainer Buck Brannaman, who was the inspiration for 'The Horse Whisperer.'

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Near the beginning of the fascinating new documentary "Buck," Buck Brannaman, who runs horse-training clinics around the country, says, "A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems, I'm helping horses with people problems."

Brannaman is the subject of first-time filmmaker Cindy Meehl's graceful look at the man who was the inspiration for Robert Redford's role in "The Horse Whisperer." Nicholas Evans, who wrote the novel upon which that film is based, calls Brannaman the zen master of the horse world."

Based at his ranch in Sheridan, Wyo., Brannaman, soft-spoken and often wearing a white straight-brim hat, spends nine months of the year traveling the country in truck and trailer conducting his four-day clinics. A protégé of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, who developed the method of horse training known as "natural horsemanship," which advocates mutual respect between rider and steed, Brannaman was an accomplished rider from an early age.

Mercilessly trained by his father, Brannaman and his brother became known as the roping stars Buckshot and Smokie, The Idaho Cowboys. (They once appeared on the popular TV show "What's My Line?") When his father's violent abuse, which included frequent whippings, became too great, Brannaman was placed by court order in a foster home, where he received the kind of loving care that, going forward, would mark his own conduct – not only toward horses but also toward people.

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