A Tender Heart

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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2 Replies to “A Tender Heart”

  1. Hi Pam,

    I know you had really been looking forward to seeing this movie with your friends. I’m so glad to hear that seeing the movie facilitated such a profound healing between you and your friends. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it in my corner of the world (the Pacific Northwest).

    Alice Miller’s argument makes a lot of sense–that having a sympathetic (and perhaps just as importantly, a compassionate) witness is crucial to stopping the abuse cycle. Thinking back to a friend I knew in high school, having sympathetic, compassionate witnesses who were also able to provide her with practical help also provided her with some more positive life choices that put her on the success rather than disaster track.

    I agree that being witnessed and accepted by four legged companions is every bit as valuable as being sympathetically witnessed and unconditionally accepted by a person. Maybe it’s better for learning about genuine, unconditional acceptance and love as our four legged companions aren’t capable of dissembling. There are even some programs in prisons that pair inmates with pets either as weekly visits or in some kind of training program where inmates work with shelter dogs to “train” them as pets. (Yes, I know our four legged friends should be seen as companions and not just pets, but even having these kinds of programs is fairly progressive thinking for institutions known mostly for their rigidity.) Here’s a link to a story about one of these kinds of programs. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15014860/ns/health-pet_health/t/prisoners-rehabilitate-death-row-dogs/

  2. Thank you for reading, Sue, and for sharing this wonderful article. I have heard of these prison programs; one of them even has it’s own TV show. And there are equine-assisted therapy programs popping up all over, some working with battered women, others with at-risk children, others with veterans suffering from PTSD.

    What I loved about this film, though, was it’s demonstration of the simplicity of healing. Kindness, patience, a tender and vulnerable heart. I hope you get the chance to see it. The DVD is going to come out this fall. But it was a treat seeing it on full screen.

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