Is it a sign of age to love documentaries? I'm a serious fan of them and often prefer the "extras" found on DVDs over the movie itself. I have an endless curiosity when it comes to peoples lives: What makes them tick? How did they come to be where they are in life, for good or for bad? A fave author is Jon Krakauer; he's a man after my own heart when it comes to this sort of curiosity. A tragic expedition on Mt. Everest? I'm into sussing out how and why it went wrong. A young man compelled to wander into the wilds of Alaska and subsist on wild game and berries? I'm diggin' that story.
I was in heaven when the documentary Buck was released. A film about a great cowboy and horse trainer (with a tragic personal story)? What could be better? Bring on the popcorn. Only something that good could keep me out of my saddle on a sunny July day and inside a dark theatre. I was not disappointed.
There was much to love about this film. It chronicles the life of an extraordinary child performer and gifted horseman who inspired a best selling novel and film of the same name. Buck has spent his life "helping horses with people problems." While it was all good, there was an especially beautiful nugget of wisdom that I mentally polished long after the show was over; a truth about horses, people, and why some are successful while others are not.
Buck could have very easily become a statistic. Born to a violent alcoholic who beat him and his brother mercilessly, Buck was finally put into foster care when his mother died and a teacher discovered the abuse. He was shy to the point of an inability to connect or speak at all and trembled in fear the first time he met his foster father, a large, masculine man who possessed a physical strength Buck had learned to fear. Instead of feeling sorry for the young boy, ignoring him, or allowing him a life of ease and pity, the foster father immediately threw him a pair of brand new calf-skin gloves and invited him to come build fence. They spent that first day together working; Buck so proud of his new gloves he couldn't bear to wear them and get them dirty. Being respected with the responsibility of a job and treated fairly without spoiling, helped a boy in danger of falling through the cracks become a success.
About halfway through the film a similarly tragic story is introduced: a young stallion whose mother died while giving birth. The foal is bottle fed and allowed to live with his owner in her home. Coddled, loved, and felt sorry for (he was oxygen deprived at birth and there was the probability of brain damage), the foal is never taught respect or given a job. When he arrives at Buck's clinic, in all his masculine glory, the stallion is so dangerous even Buck will not handle him and instead ropes a hind foot from horseback. Though the stallion is able to be worked, to a degree, he eventually attacks his handler during the clinic and seriously injures him. Buck wisely says to the owner, "This horse tells me an awful lot about you." He continues on to say that the failure in the life of the stallion was not his mother dying, or his oxygen deprivation. The horse didn't have to be a victim and could have grown up to be of use. Instead, he was failed by the humans in his life. Sobering.
I know alot of people, and horses, that could use a pair of calf-skin gloves.