'Buck': A master horse trainer plies his trade

Buck Brannaman, the subject of this diligent documentary, can make a horse do anything but climb a ladder. And he could probably coax it into trying that.

Buck examines the miraculous technique of this bowlegged equine expert, who has become a Western legend over the years.

This fine, if fulsome, film follows Brannaman on his rounds. Forty weeks out of the year he conducts four-day horse-training clinics, from Maine to Montana.

Most of the doc takes place in one ring or another, with Brannaman on his "Madonna microphone" headset, lecturing a dozen or so horse owners on how to use kid gloves to get their horses to obey.

Brannaman's style is a mixture of common sense and voodoo. Give him a couple of days and he can load the most intractable animal onto a horse trailer without touching him.

He's some kind of mystic cowboy, as relaxed in the saddle as a drunk in a beanbag chair. Like many purposefully serene men, Brannaman's gentleness was forged in a crucible of violence.

Buck is big on its subject's backstory: a physically abusive father who put the boy to work at 6 as a terrified trick roper. Brannaman and his older brother eventually went into foster care.

There are testimonials from satisfied and amazed students, including Robert Redford, who used this St. Francis of the stables as the primary consultant on the film The Horse Whisperer.

Brannaman is a fascinating character, but Buck is so tightly focused that only avid horse lovers will find it appealing.

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his pop-culture blog at www.philly.com/dod.



Directed by Cindy Meehl. With Buck Brannaman. Distributed by IFC Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 29 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG (for thematic elements, mild language and an injury).