I watched the lovely documentary about the horse trainer “Buck” again last weekend. If you haven’t watched it once or twice, I recommend it. It’s on streaming Netflix, so there’s no reason to put it off.
This time I watched it with houseguests staying for the weekend. The visit wasn’t going so well. The kids are older now and can be cranky and sullen. We couldn’t get the group to agree on what to do. We were all put out with one another. I suggested we watch the movie.
“It teaches about relationships,” I said.
You’ve probably heard about Buck Brannaman, the cowboy sage who uses a gentle touch to save horses and correct their overbearing owners. The movie has a kind of slow, sad beauty that you can lose yourself in. But there’s a part toward the end that I can hardly bear. I turned my head away in anticipation.
Buck seems like a miracle-worker until someone brings him a horse that is wild-eyed and bloodthirsty. An orphaned colt that has been untended to the point of savagery. Even as the horse charges the gates and bolts the pen, you’re thinking there’s a happy turn to come. The minds of all the riders and spectators — and this includes you — are united in hope and prayer: Save the day.
This is what we expect of our stories.
But then the horse bites a man between the eyes, and in the gush of blood and truth, the owner admits that she’s scared to death and tired of living on the brink of self-made catastrophe. She’s going to do what she has to do, no longer turning back.
There’s the last matter of loading the horse onto the trailer, and Buck stands in the ring to coax him safely out the gate. He doesn’t have a rope. The horse and man are totally untethered. His owner calls to the pony from outside. “Come on,” she coos, “Come on.” She wants to help; she wants to do one last thing right.
And then Buck speaks the last lesson, the eternal finishing stroke.
Just sit still. Don’t do anything. He says it quietly, a whisper. He stands pat, head bowed, issues no command, and gives the horse the dignity of self-propulsion.
The horse knows where he’s going, just like we all know where we’re going, because there is only one way to go. Straight on.
The only magic in life, the only miracle, is in the time and space that opens up between us, by sheer acceptance and surrender, so we can finally lead ourselves in the only direction there is to go.