‘Horse Whisperer’ coming to Virginia Horse Center in October

Buck Brannaman

One of the things I love the most about living in the Roanoke region of Virginia is having the Virginia Horse Center just a short jaunt up Interstate 81. The first class horse facility brings top competition and horsemen to our region each year, and 2018 will be no exception.

If you are a fan of natural horsemanship, one of the very top clinicians will be visiting the East Complex on Oct. 5-7, 2018. Buck Brannaman was the inspiration for the movie and novel character Tom Booker from “The Horse Whisperer.” He was also the equine consultant on the film. A documentary about Brannaman called “Buck,”Buck directed by Cindy Meehl, won the U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Brannaman will hold Foundation Horsemanship and Horsemanship classes at the October clinic. For more information, contact taylorf7@vt.edu. Brannaman’s website lists clinic costs at $700 for three days of class participation as a rider and an auditing fee of $30 a day.

The classes offered are described as follows:

Foundation Horsemanship

This new class is for the green rider or a green horse who may feel the need for additional groundwork prior to riding. During each of the three-day sessions half of the class is dedicated to working the horse from the ground in preparation for riding, with the second half of the class horseback.

Horsemanship 1

For the green horse and rider already comfortable in the snaffle bit along with aged horses needing continued work. This is the first stage of progressing into the bridle with all basic movements introduced. All levels of riders – no matter what discipline – will benefit. The class features strictly dry work – no cattle. All maneuvers stress the vaquero style of riding and are appropriate for horses from first level snaffle to experienced bridle horses. Hackamore horses welcome.

Brannaman, of Sheridan, Wyo., spends much of his year on the road holding clinics around the globe. For instance, his 2018 schedule includes stops in Australia, Italy and throughout the U.S., although most stops are in the Western U.S.

“I often tell people in the clinics, the human possesses the one thing that means more to the horse than anything in the world, and that is peace and comfort,” Brannaman told ABC News in 2012. “That’s all they want.”

The trainer grew up a child of abuse, terrified of their widowed father who forced him and his brothers to perform trick roping.

“The horses at that time in my life, they saved my life,” Brannaman told Weir. “The horses did way for me than I did for them. So they were my friends, and they were sort of my refuge. So it’s interesting that I’ve been given the opportunity to spend the rest of my life making things better for the horses.”

Brannaman is known for his quiet approach to gaining respect from horses. He emphasizes that respect and fear are not the same thing. He 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.

“Horse Whisperer” Buck Brannaman to hold two clinics in region

Buck Brannaman in the 2011 documentary “Buck.” Photo via IMDB.com by Emily Knight
In the 1990s natural horsemanship techniques were thrown into the spotlight with the Robert Redford film “The Horse Whisperer.” Buck Brannaman was the real horse trainer, or some might say people trainer, that inspired the lead character in that film. Although several people have claimed to be the inspiration for the film, author Nicholas Evans said, “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.”
About 30 years later, the documentary “Buck” took a closer look at Buck Brannaman and introduced him to a wider audience than the devoted horsemen that follow him once again. “A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems,” he says at the beginning of the documentary.
Some call him a New Age kind of clinician whose teachings go beyond horses. “All your horses are a mirror to your soul,” he said. “And sometimes you might not like what you see in the mirror.”
Brannaman believes in building respect but not fear in the horses he trains. Having grown up a child of an abusive father, Brannaman has talked about how he found comfort in the friendship of horses. The compassion he sought as a child he now channels into his training philosophy. “The horses need to respect you,” he said. “But sometimes people confuse respect and fear. They’re not the same at all.”

A student of Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, Brannaman now teaches clinics worldwide and this fall he will be in our region for two clinics.

  • From Sept. 30-Oct. 3 he will be in Walkertown, North Carolina, (about 2-hr drive from Roanoke) for a Colt Starting and Horsemanship clinic at Sullivan Farm. Email hopkin6136@triad.rr.com for more information.
  • From Oct. 7-10, he will be in Lewisburg, West Virginia, (less than 2-hr drive from Roanoke) at the State Fair of Virginia grounds for a Foundation Horsemanship and Horsemanship clinic. Call 828-899-2051 for more information.
“I often tell people in the clinics, the human possesses the one thing that means more to the horse than anything in the world, and that is peace and comfort,” Brannaman told ABC News in 2012. “That’s all they want.”


Buck Brannaman in the news