This morning Cindy Meehl, director of the award-winning documentary BUCK and the all-new seven-disc instructional DVD series 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN, stopped by the Horse Radio Network’s Horses in the Morning show. There she had some fun with hosts Jaime Jennings and Glenn the Geek, plus brought along singer/songwriter Templeton Thompson to talk about the music featured in the 7 CLINICS series. Be sure to check out the Horses in the Morning Show by clicking the link below.
Earlier this week, TSB had a chance to catch up with Cindy and ask her about her new DVD series (now available at the TSB online bookstore—CLICK HERE), plus which movies she couldn’t live without if she were stranded on a desert island with her iPad and WiFi!
TSB: You first met Buck Brannaman at one of his clinics, is that right? Were you there because you had a specific problem with one of your horses, or just out of curiosity? What did you think of his methods when first experiencing them in-person?
CM: I had first heard about Buck through my friend Vern Smith. He had introduced me to this kind of horsemanship when I went out to look for a trail horse for hunter pacing. Vern kept telling me I needed to go to a Buck clinic. I had never heard of Buck Brannaman, growing up in Mississippi and then moving north to New York and Connecticut. I had purchased a mare that was really hot and had been shown a lot under pressure. I felt like I was going to get hurt if I didn’t get some tools to deal with her other than pulling back on the reins!
I saw that Buck had a clinic in Pennsylvania and out of desperation I drove the five-and-a-half hours there. I realized Vern was right and Buck was a master horseman who offered tools that I had never been taught in all my 30 years of riding. I learned that by always holding this mare in so tight, I was just building up pressure. It is really hard to let go when there is fear of what the horse would do without it, but it was amazing how she would “let down” when given less pressure and getting her to bend and become less “braced” up. She was a very challenging horse and I learned a lot from her and Buck.
TSB: How did you get the idea for creating a documentary about Buck? Was it easy to convince him to participate in such a project?
CM: Buck had been talking about making a narrative movie based on his book The Faraway Horses. He told me that when I attended his clinic in Belton, Texas, in 2008. I was thinking how no Hollywood actor could ever truly capture the real Buck Brannaman, especially his horsemanship skills, and people should get a chance to see the real guy. It was just a thought at the time, but I felt pretty strongly about it. That idea and feeling would not go away. It only grew and became stronger the more I witnessed the improvement in my horse using these methods and concepts. This was so exciting to me, but I found it difficult to share his knowledge with others. People in my English-riding world didn’t really want to hear what a cowboy had to say about riding. They didn’t recognize the value.
Then, about three months later, I went to a clinic at McGinnis Meadows Ranch in Montana. I had heard they rode all their horses in the Buck Brannaman method and I had always wanted to go there. At McGinnis, all the meals are served outside on a beautiful deck overlooking their gorgeous meadows. Buck was at a table waiting for Shayne and Jo-Anne Jackson (the ranch owners) to join him. Buck is rarely ever alone, and I saw this as a “sign”—an opportunity to go ask him if he would be interested in being the subject of a documentary. I walked over to him and asked if he had ever thought about making a documentary, and he said, “Not really.” I asked if he would like to, and he said that he thought it would be a good idea. Then I told him I would need his phone number and he jotted it down on a tiny piece of paper and handed it to me. I said thanks and that I would start working on it. Two months later I showed up in North Carolina with a camera crew. It was a two-minute conversation that started a four-and-a-half-year journey. Of course, I forgot to mention that I had never made a film before!
TSB: When did you first realize your “Buck Project” wouldn’t be over with the completion of the documentary—that in some ways, you had only just begun? After all, 7 CLINICS is on a much grander scale in terms of actual viewable footage, and has a very specific educational purpose…did you know from Day One that you wanted to create an instructional series to follow up the documentary?
CM: Originally, I thought that making a documentary about Buck would bring people to understand the value of this kind of teaching. However, as we started accumulating so much footage, I realized that it was way too vast of a concept to really teach it in the film. I wanted to make a film that would really move people and make them want to search out more of Buck’s methods of horsemanship. While in Sheridan, Montana, at Betty Staley’s clinic, I had three cameras shooting and we were running low on film. The crew was going to start cutting down on footage of the clinic. After being around Buck and his clinics I knew that you never knew what could happen next and he is always saying such profound things about the horse. No two clinics are alike. I wanted to keep shooting and have more film expressed from New York. That’s when it occurred to me that with all the great clinic footage I had, it would be wonderful to share more of it with the world so people could really see Buck in action. You really have to see everything Buck does, from groundwork on up, to grasp the concept of the how he gets horses to understand what he is asking of them.
So, what I realized was that the film BUCK would be entertaining and bring folks the idea of doing it another way, and 7 CLINICS would give them the tools to go there! 7 CLINICS is the completion of my mission to get this type of horsemanship to a much broader audience that would have no other way of finding it.
TSB: What is one of your most vivid memories from the Buck clinics you’ve witnessed?
CM: I would have to say it was the afternoon when Buck walked into that round pen in Chico with that horse from the film that had just attacked Dan. I was scared to death. I had seen that horse charging over the fence all afternoon at people. We had to station someone there to keep people from walking up to him and losing a hand. Buck had been teaching his clinic, and I realized he had not heard about the history of the horse [which you learn about in the film] or seen all the attempted attacks. When he went into the pen to load the horse he was carrying only two flags. I almost started crying because I was sure the horse was going to kill him. I couldn’t breathe. It was shocking to see him so “gently” use the concept of pressure and release with those two flags. He was able to get that horse into the trailer in a very short amount of time. I was astounded. Everyone was crying, as it was such a tragic and yet valuable lesson. No one said a word and Buck walked back to his trailer. You could tell how upset he was.
TSB: What is one of your most vivid memories from your experience with the success of BUCK the film?
CM: It would be hard to top the premiere screening at Sundance. It was screened in a 400-seat theater that was completely sold out and the film had never been shown to an audience before. We had kept it tightly under wraps because we really believed in it and denied the many requests from the press for early screeners. We were fortunate enough to have some nice mentions from the festival director and programmers in the pre-festival press so the buzz was building. We sat through the screening with baited breath and when the credits rolled, the crowd exploded and everyone was on his or her feet! We were so happy to see that people really liked it that much. We had standing ovations for 9 out of 10 screenings at Sundance and were told that rarely if ever happens. Very cool.
TSB: While your documentary about Buck certainly managed to cross gaps of all kinds and appeal to all different sorts of people, of different ages, from different backgrounds, and with different interests from many different parts of the world, those in the horse industry might still think of his methods as being primarily applicable to Western disciplines. Taking into consideration your own background, what would you say to those who ride dressage, hunter-jumpers, saddle-seat, or in other equestrian sports in order to convince them that his training methods apply to every horse person, just as the lessons from his life apply to every human being?
CM: Buck does not teach “Western” riding. As he would say, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Wranglers or spandex, he is teaching horsemanship. I like to say he teaches you to “speak horse.”
I feel that we get so addicted to our particular discipline of riding that we often leave the horse and his feelings of confidence and well-being out of it. A the end of the day, they are all horses, and whether you strap an English or Western saddle on him, he will still be a horse and think and react like a horse. Buck teaches you how a horse thinks and learns. It has nothing and everything to do with what is required in the picture-perfect show ring. It is about creating a partnership that is so complete and beautiful that you can achieve the best your horse has to offer in and out of a show ring. It is not a temporary device or fix that will force a horse into a position or desired frame, instead it is a learned sensitivity that becomes a unique “feel ”with each and every horse you ride. That feel, which Buck discusses and explains in 7 CLINICS, will get the horse to perform moves in the most correct form through a trust and communication that I found unprecedented in any trainer I had ever seen.
That type of communication suits my sensibilities of having a willing partner as opposed to a slave. There is a dance partner aspect that I find very appealing as well as a lightness that is very healthy for the horse.
TSB: If you could be sure that viewers take away one lesson from the 7 CLINICS series, what would you like it to be?
CM: I think one of the most important aspects that Buck teaches is the release. It is the most important thing to understand when you want your horse to understand what it is you want him to do. Riders often have a tough time letting go. If you can just reward the horse’s action with a well-timed release, he will learn very quickly. In fact, I think riders will be astounded at just how quickly they can learn something or make a change. When working with a young or resistant horse, the release needs to be exaggerated. As Buck says about releasing the reins for a loose rein, “Loose enough I could throw my hat through it!” Or in English-riding terms, you would be riding on the buckle. As the horse gets more advanced, the release is much more subtle because the horse is lighter and a softness extends through the bit and all the way through the horse to his feet. It is something to be studied and explored in detail, and we do quite a bit to explain it on Disc 3. You will hear Buck refer to it throughout the entire series. Best to hear it explained by the master!
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?
CM: I would say a surefooted Quarter Horse that is not built “downhill” and perhaps mixed with some Thoroughbred or sport horse for speed to escape from wild animals. The book would need to be a wilderness survival guide!
TSB: If your desert island had WiFi and an iPad, which movie would you stream?
CM: That is really tough because I LOVE movies of all kinds and especially old movies. Some favorites are: Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story; All About Eve with Betty Davis and Celeste Holmes; and for more modern films, Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nicolson and Dianne Keaton; Love Actually; Bandits directed by Barry Levinson… I could go on and on, but I do love the romances.
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?
CM: Milk, mayonnaise, pickle relish, salad, butter, cheese
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
CM: Being outside on a crisp fall day with my dogs and horses.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.
CM: The first time I was ever on a horse was when I was seven years old. I was at a birthday party, a few houses down from mine in Jackson, Mississippi. Seeing that little pony was love at first sight, and I spent the whole party watching him in the back yard. I could think of nothing else for weeks and weeks!
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.
CM: When I was nine years old I found an ad of a girl who would give riding lessons in Jackson. It was basically getting to ride for an hour with her through the woods and streets of Jackson. I believe it was $12 for an hour. I got my mom to pay for four hours every Sat. so I could ride hill and dale with her on a horse named Puddin’. Eventually, I gave up the saddling part and just rode Puddin’ bareback every week, no matter what the weather. I loved it!
One day we were galloping around a corner and a bit downhill, and I lost my balance and slipped off. It didn’t phase me.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
CM: A smooth gait and movement
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback or with a horse that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?
CM: Take an weeklong trip where we could go for many miles each day and sleep along the way in a nice inn with great food!
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
CM: Rare steak, Arugula salad and baked potato or halibut with Donna Hay’s lemon and mint salad
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
CM: Staying at home with my animals and husband! I travel too much for work.
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
CM: I would have a lot to talk about with Jesus.
TSB: What is your motto?
CM: Leap, and the net will appear. John Burroughs
My favorite poem is something Mother Teresa had hanging on her orphanage wall in Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.
The DVDs are shipping NOW so don’t wait!!