Buck Brannaman's Clinics Come to the North State
● By Melissa Mendonca
Saddle UpMay 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
When Chico horsewoman Tina Cornish accompanied her longtime friend, legendary horse trainer Buck Brannaman, to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival screening of “Buck,” a documentary about Brannaman, she was sweetly surprised by “how non-horse people were drawn to him just because of the message.”
To say they were drawn to him is a bit of an understatement. The film took the U.S. Audience Award that year.
His message was built in by design. Brannaman agreed to director Cindy Meehl’s request to create a film about him only if it included elements of his life beyond his renown as a horseman. The result is a deeply felt story of Brannaman rising above a childhood of abuse that led to
him being placed in foster care. His reputation as a horse whisperer—someone who teaches a humane and respectful way of working with horses and their people—seems all the more remarkable knowing that Brannaman himself has suffered tremendous trauma.
“Now people realize they can connect with me more than they thought,” says Brannaman, noting that prior to the film’s production, people sometimes felt he would not be approachable as a renowned and glamorized horse trainer.
“A lot of people's perception of the foster care system is that it's just broken,” he adds. “You don't see any of the incredible success of the system. There are social workers out there that are doing a really wonderful job and they're not doing it for the money, they're doing it for the kids.”
While maintaining a schedule teaching horsemanship clinics that keeps him on the road 40 weeks a year—“it’s all as romantic and glorious as you might think,” he says, wryly— the Sheridan, Wyo.-based cowboy is also busy working on the film adaptation of his book, “Th e Faraway Horses.” The feature film will more closely follow “some of my darkest times,” he says, and will delve more deeply into his childhood. His triumphant emergence from these dark times has much to do with is transformative work with horses.
Two-and-a-half weeks of his 40-week clinic schedule will be spent in Tehama County this month, as Brannaman offers various levels of horsemanship clinics at the Tehama District Fairgrounds in Red Bluff and Rolling Hills Equestrian Center in Corning.
Th e clinics are organized by Cornish and her husband, Dan Gunter, who have been bringing Brannaman to the North State for about 10 years. Gunter has the distinction of being the cowboy who was bitten by a particularly rough horse in one of Buck’s most dramatic moments.
The couple’s Pine Creek Ranch is dedicated to high-end show and troubled horses, and they practice the philosophy of horsemanship that Brannaman teaches. “It’s a very humane way to approach horses, where you try to make the horse your partner rather than a slave,” says Brannaman.
“He’s the only clinic I host right now,” says Cornish. “Th e thing with Buck is that he’s such a horseman and he’s able to work with people at any level. He just provides you with really crisp, clean direction and it works with any horse and any rider.” Although the clinics are full for participants, they are open to the public to view for a fee. While they are particularly appealing to those wishing to better their horsemanship, there are deep parallels to interpersonal human relationships. “It’s not any different than how I am with my own kids,” says Brannaman, noting the importance of rewarding good behavior while making it difficult to do the wrong thing. “It’s not based on reward and punishment,” he says. “The way you approach horses philosophically is a common sense approach.”
The afternoons of the clinic at Rolling Hills Equestrian Center will include Brannaman teaching ranch roping, which he describes as an “alternative sport to the type of roping you see in big rodeos. It’s not about speed.” Rather, he says, “We basically teach people the skills you would use on a large ranch if you have a calf that is sick.” In Big Sky country, such as Wyoming, the distances may be too far to drive cattle into a corral for doctoring, so “you have to be able to do it at the end of a rope.”
As Brannaman continues a career that has spanned 33 years, he looks to the children of the first students he started training as his greatest rewards. “There are kids all over the country that started with me because their parents were with me,” he says. Cornish’s own children are prime examples as they now make their own way in the horse worlds. “That next generation will be my legacy,” says Brannaman. “They will carry on the tradition of fine horsemanship.”
Buck Brannaman Clinics
May 8-11, 2015 • Tehama District Fairgrounds • Red Bluff
May 15-18, 2015 • Rolling Hills Equestrian Center • Corning