The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buck Pt. 2

As you may have noticed, I've found the stallion episode in the movie Buck to be a source of much reflection.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe there's a place in our dealings with horses for righteous anger. These creatures are not cause-and-effect Pavlovian automata who ineluctably respond in such and such a way because of their treatment and training.

We live in a world where the creative principle is a preference for good over evil, order over chaos, life over death, health over disease, cooperation over conflict, love over hate. Every living being knows this, and although all are caught in a web of necessity where death and destruction must be tolerated or even meted out, none are satisfied with this condition. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail until now. (Romans 8:22)

There is a community of morality (as it were) which subsists, not only among humans, but among all creatures, and especially among creatures who live together ostensibly in friendship, such as humans and horses.

When a horse steps radically outside of that community, one can treat him like a passive conglomeration of species-specific characteristics, shaped by experiences, and powerless to direct his own life. "This horse is this way because he has never been taught respect, etc."

Or one can say, "Damn it, you bastard, I hate you, what did I ever do to you? So what if you're all so instinctive and quick, I can't help it if I'm a measly pathetic human and stupid as well, and I don't care what anyone did to you in the past, that doesn't give you the right to turn around and terrify others." And then you can throw things at him and shout a lot. Which is not in the least tiny bit like the 2x4 treatment.

No one got angry at the colt when he attacked the cowboy. It was all, "Well, no wonder, there you go, that's what happens when you have a horse like that." Say you were a criminal who had been orphaned and then raised by a gang on the streets and taught that aggression was a virtue and retribution a duty - what if you then murdered a boy because he was wearing the wrong colors and looked at you wrong. Who's telling more truth - the person who says, "Well, there's no way he could do any better, he's a dud because of his background - it would be kinder to execute him"? Or the person who rages, "How could you? How could you kill my son who never harmed you? Would you like it if I killed you? You have destroyed my life!"?

I'm making the claim that horses understand righteous anger. And maybe they understand an angry person a lot better than they do people who seem to go randomly from calm to predatory, from fearful to  hostile, from passive to controlling. We are not angry with our prey, only with our fellows.

I'm saying that, for all their terrifying strangeness, horses occupy the same moral sphere as we do. And by "moral," I don't mean a set of rules - I mean our shared inheritance of a world fallen from paradise, and a shared desire to in some way, as much as possible, return there.

I absolutely don't blame anyone for not taking on responsibility for the horse in the movie. I would not be willing to do so. But it's an eye-opener to me to see how profoundly that horse was treated as a mere product of its circumstances - how there was no expectation that an appeal could be made to something inside the horse, something which has nothing to do with training or usefulness. If that horse had to be destroyed, as it did unless someone was willing to make it a huge priority in their life, then please don't let him go down as a "good little horse" manqué, but as a brilliant, misguided, desperate criminal who could have been a contender.

That horse got me rattled about George again. I was out feeding last night, and George - who gets very bent out of shape about food when it's cold and wet - was crowding me. I didn't like the way he was acting and told him so. I may have stamped my foot. I said, "Why don't you go vent your frustration by chasing the mares like usual?" So he did. And I was given space and peace to put his food in his bucket.

Circumstances prevented that horse from amounting to much in his life, but through the movie, he'll reach many more people than if his life had gone smoothly. Perhaps he'll end up fulfilling his potential in this way.

One thing I've learned is that we're klutzy and clumsy and slow-witted, and that if horses give us a break, it's not because we've learned to be smart, it's that they've decided to be kind.


  1. Oh, June, I can see I've missed too much, been away too long. I would have loved to have watched Buck with you, absolutely loved it.

    I didn't know much about Buck Brannaman before seeing the doc, and, like you, I found him a perfectly likeable fellow with some gifts of nature that seemed to enable him to connect with horses.

    That young stallion has haunted me ever since, however. Remember when I was writing about respect back in the summer? Some of those questions bit me right in the face when the stallion showed up in the film. I have strong, conflicted thoughts about him and his owner. If there was a false note in the doc for me, it was then and there. Either leave him on the cutting-room floor, or star him in a doc of his own. Something about the whole segment just didn't ring true to me at all.

    Questions I've been chewing on:

    Why was he even permitted into the clinic?
    Why were so many people apparently oblivious to what he stallion was "saying"? I mean, they just went to the stereotype and stopped looking.
    Why did Buck let the stallion's owner off the hook? (Not to be judgmental, I know, I know, but 18 stallions?)
    Is there any way to find out whether he was actually euthanized? And nobody thought gelding him might be a worthy experiment, first?

    Trouble, troubling.

    "...please don't let him go down as a "good little horse" manqué, but as a brilliant, misguided, desperate criminal who could have been a contender." That's exactly how he's gone down for me, June. Thanks so much for writing these two posts.

  2. Thank you, Muddy K! Thanks especially, because - y'know - one starts wondering if one isn't going a little batty.

    Your questions are right on. Absolutely. Why didn't they ask what he was saying, indeed. They seemed to think he actually wasn't saying anything, but sort of gibbering nonsensically and trying to take over the world in a demented way, because of course that's what horses do when they aren't taught respect.

    The thing which makes him particularly haunting is that he doesn't come across as a diamond in the rough, or a fearful horse striking out in self-defence, a confused horse flailing around in torment, or an angry horse seeking revenge. Instead, he comes across as a rapier-sharp judge - meting out hair-trigger justice to every single misstep. There's nothing warm or fuzzy about this horse, not even potentially so. But there's something very clear and noble about him.

    I was hoping someone could identify his Hempfling "type." Alas I gave away my copy of "What Horses Reveal" and when I went to Amazon to see about getting another copy, I discovered that they're $116 used, and more new!!! Argh. Must be out of print. I emailed the person I gave/lent the book to and told them to send it back if they didn't want it anymore!

    Anyway, I thought he might be a "Unicorn."

    I went back and read your interesting "Respect" entry from June 19. I'm coming to the point where I'm going to put the word "respect" up on the shelf for a while because of all the connotations you wrote about in that entry, e.g. you said:
    "If 'respect,' for humans, is just fear managed and done up right, with civility and social grace, how is it any different for horses? Both constructs are about consequences, the whole respect-me-or-else thing. Obey me or else. My way or the highway. Right now I'm wondering what choice the horse ever has."

    Instead, I think words like politeness, consideration, courtesy are better. I think of it as inviting the horse into the community of mutual submission (to borrow John Paul II's characterization of marriage) and graciousness. That's the way we raise children - we teach them that we're polite because it's kind to be polite, not because we're afraid of the consequences if we're rude. I think of George always getting out of the way of the gate, when all I've ever done is ask him to do it out of noblesse oblige.

    You and me have to go to the movies together one day!

  3. hey guys !

    i am so glad i stumbled across your blog !! i am with you Muddy K... i watched 'Buck' for the first time last night (i had never heard of him prior to that) and i can't stop thinking about that stallion !!! it's been on my mind ever since and i've been googling today 'buck brannaman too damamged horse' to find out the outcome of what happened w/ that horse. (that's how come i stumbled across this blog...)i assume he was put down but man, it's been eating at me all day.

    i was really sad after watching that scene w/ the stallion... i thought there might have been an inkling of hope with him... there seemed to me times when he was 'normal' she patted him at the beginning, he was sensible on the horse flaot, Buck standing there and the horse waving the white flag (i have to re watch that part) but i guess i didn't see everything this horse did so i guess he was really unpredictable ? but i was confused as to why all of a sudden, a cowboy could ride him (he was unbroken proir to the clinic yeh ?) just like that ? and then the next day not even be able to put a saddlecloth on him ? but the way he was putting it on was a little... for want of a better work...blunt i guess ? he was really just throwing it over him and not gently placing it on him ? that part confused me as i wasn't sure what he was trying to do there...

    it made me sad anyway i can't stop thinking about that damaged horse... i can't help but wonder if she had re homed him when she had her accident instead of him being in a paddock with 17 other stallions !!!! how he would have turned out today ???

    it left me feeling empty and confused... and sad... and a bit angry... i'm not sure...

    anyway... just a random reader on the net that stumbled across your blog all the way from Australia... was glad to see your posts about the movie...

    : ))

  4. Hi, Assie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I think they asked way too much of that stallion way too fast. And they didn't respect him. You're right - that guy with the blanket was acting like a predator.

    I don't really think the horse was unpredictable - just lightning fast and quick to judge. The people on the other hand were weird and unpredictable.