"Buck" is Buck Brannaman, the real-life horse whisperer. It's also the title of Cindy Meehl's superb documentary about the cowboy who inspired the novel and movie ("The Horse Whisperer") and who has his own inspirational story and down-to-earth philosophy of life that works with animals and people.

To make the film, Meehl and her crew followed Brannaman for more than two years, going to the clinics he does across the country to show him at work with the horses and, more important, the riders. They also interviewed the plain-spoken, wise Brannaman, some longtime friends and students and, pivotally, his foster mother.

Without divulging everything, Brannaman had a tough childhood marred with physical abuse, and it's not a stretch to connect his gentle, fear-free horsemanship techniques to a reaction to that abuse and a determination not to pass it on.

That's made clear through his dealings with the horses, even one of the wildest and meanest I've seen. But it also underlies his relationship with his daughter, who goes on the road with him in the summers, doing the dirty work (like cleaning horse trailers) to learn her father's craft.

Brannaman's a cowboy right out of central casting, with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get openness, plain-spoken honesty and wry sense of humor. I spent a half hour on the phone with him a couple of weeks ago and can attest that he wasn't putting on an act for the camera. He's just that way.

Watching him work with horses and their owners/riders is transfixing, especially in light of how I learned to break horses decades ago. His techniques, which he learned from others and now passes down, are as effective as they are groundbreaking, and his personality is perfectly fitted for the job.

"Buck" won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival; it was the most popular documentary there for a reason. If you like horses at all or simply want to see a great American story, don't miss it.

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Reach L. Kent Wolgamott at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSWolgamott.