The Horse Whisperer

Legendary trainer Buck Brannaman relies on trust, not terror

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Writer Paul Trachtman travels to the rugged backcountry of Wyoming in search of a cowboy who is revolutionizing the ways in which we perceive, and train, horses.

Near the town of Sheridan, trainer Buck Brannaman maintains his home base on the 1,200-acre ranch where he lives with his wife and family. Brannaman is no ordinary horseman: his work departs radically from traditional methods for "breaking" a horse, relying instead on techniques that turn frightened horses into friends.

Brannaman was the basis for the character Tom Booker, the central figure in Nicholas Evans' best-selling novel The Horse Whisperer. The film version of that book, opening around the country this month, stars Robert Redford as Booker, the cowboy who heals a fear-crazed horse along with the mother and daughter who bring the animal to him. Redford also directed the film.

Brannaman's work with horses, as it turns out, also served to rescue him from a troubled past. Brannaman himself was an abused child: the compassion and empathy he has brought to training horses has helped him deal with a history of conflict and violence.

In the end, says Buck Brannaman, listening to the horse is everything. "I've run across some people I don't like," he says, "but not a horse. I'm the horse's friend."

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