Abuse begets abuse.

Most therapists, teachers, child protection workers and cops know that when you see someone beating a child or an animal, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find they were treated the same way. Violence often gets passed from one generation to the next.

For me, that’s why the story of horse trainer Buck Brannaman is exceptional. He broke the cycle. First of all, to call him a horse trainer is a huge understatement. The man is, pure and simple, a magician with horses.

I’ve known about Brannaman for years. He was the inspiration for Robert Redford’s movie The Horse Whisperer. 

And he comes from a powerful lineage of teachers: Bill Dorrance, Tom Dorrance, and Ray Hunt.

These were the first of their kind – the men who knew a different way to handle horses. They got into a horse’s head and used that knowledge to the good. The old west method of breaking a horse was brutal and horribly abusive. To this day I can’t bear the images of treating horses so badly.

Buck Brannaman and his brother were abused as kids. Their father beat them mercilessly until they were finally removed from his care and placed in a foster home. The miracle here is that as a man, Buck is kind, gentle and forgiving – with horses and people.

He interrupted the pattern of generational abuse in a dramatic way. He spends his life traveling the country teaching horse owners how to get the most from their animals. Watching him work is nothing short of amazing, and it often does seem like magic.

There is a documentary film showing right now about Brannaman, and I encourage you to see it. Even if you’re not a “horse person,” I think you’ll like this film. I left the theater feeling uplifted and hopeful. Not just about horses. About people and their ability to surmount horrible life experiences and become better.

The scenery is gorgeous and Brannaman is an everyday hero – a man you really would love to know. He’s a no-nonsense guy, down to earth and likeable as all get out. But he’s also no pushover. He has boundaries and lets you know what he expects.

In the world of child rearing, we call it authoritative parenting, which consists of positive emotional experiences combined with clear expectations, boundaries, and consequences.

It seems with horses and kids, we could all benefit from a little more whispering.

See the movie and then let me know what you think. If you live in Fort Collins, it’s currently playing at The Lyric.

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