A Tender Heart

A perfect day. The rain never came, the sky was clear and blue, the air was warm but not too warm, and the 65 mile drive to the city had been relatively uneventful. I sat in the air-conditioned chill of the theater with my two dear friends, quietly chatting and waiting for the film to begin. I had been waiting for weeks and weeks, ever since I heard about the film, ever since I saw the trailer, which left me quiet and sad and elated and excited, so very excited, like a little girl waiting for her birthday, her party, all of her friends at her house, the fun they would have, the nourishing love embedded in that day.

My two friends are very special friends. I have known them for most of my adult life. But several years ago, a quiet, stealthy rift somehow snuck itself between us.

I invited them to see this film with me to help to heal this rift. My friends know my love of horses, how this love turned my life upside down, drove me out of the city, into what I once considered the edges of civilization, that drove me to a new occupation, a new life. My friends had once visited the barn I lease for my two horses, had learned to groom and lead them; one had even sat on my Fuersti and experienced the thrill of being five feet off the ground atop the warm strength of another being.

Within minutes of the start of the film, I had settled into its world, the world of horse trainer Buck Brannaman and his life on the road, traveling around the country, “help[ing] horses with people problems.” I felt as though I was right there at the clinics watching Buck working with the horses, patiently teaching the participants; I could feel the hot sun on the top of my head, smell the dust in the air, the musky sweat of the horses, feel the camaraderie of the group, the horse lovers hungry for direction, wanting to learn a better way of being with their horses.

As I watched this man, a man who had suffered extreme abuse as a child, who had been mercilessly beaten at the hands of the man who should have offered support and guidance, his father, beatings so severe that Buck and his brother were eventually removed from the home after their mother’s death and placed with foster parents, as I watched this man, listened to his gentle voice, watched his gentle manner, with both horses and humans, gentle but firm, direct, honest, something inside me began to shift.

Years ago, I read a book by psychologist Alice Miller, The Untouched Key, that argued that what kept the abused child from becoming an abuser was a sympathetic witness, someone who acknowledged the child’s pain and helped to heal the heart.

Buck Brannaman was blessed with several such witnesses, both two-legged and four-legged: His loving foster parents, his mentor, horseman Ray Hunt. Buck said in an interview that horses saved his life and that the work he does now—crisscrossing the country, teaching people to relate to horses with patience and fairness and gentleness—is his way of giving back. He made a choice. He chose to transform the brutality, the  terror, the pain, into vulnerability and tenderness, and to use these divine gifts to create healing for himself and for others.

The something inside of me beginning to shift was my heart unfolding.

As we left the theater, my friends and I talked quietly, deeply moved by what we had experienced. We were not the same. I had hoped that our time together would start us on the path to healing. I had not expected that the quiet dignity of a man on a screen would be a force that healed us.

Driving away from the city, back to the edges of civilization, my little white dog dozing in the back seat, driving towards my beloved horses, I felt nourished and tender. My body was relaxed, my hands soft, my heart full. I felt a tender promise in the air, a tender possibility, the glorious promise that each day brings.



Click here to see the trailer for  this beautiful film, Buck.

I would love to hear your thoughts and stories about our power to heal ourselves and others.  I hope you will be moved to share.

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