'Horse Whisperer' helps train animals at ability center in Park City

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2012 10:34 p.m. MDT

Buck Brannaman, also known as the "Horse Whisperer," was at the National Ability Center in Park City, Tuesday, May 15, 2012, for a demonstration on how to train horses.

Joe DeLuca, Deseret News

PARK CITY — The sound of his voice and his gentle touch creates a bond, and suddenly man and horse are learning and working together.

Horse training legend Buck Brannaman, known as the “Horse Whisperer,” came to Utah Tuesday to work his magic and help Utahns with disabilities experience the outdoors.

"I'm just trying to get people to understand horses and understand where the horse is coming from and to get it sorted out how to teach a horse," he said. 

He brought his skills and love for these creatures to Utah for a demonstration and reception to benefit the National Ability Center in Park City. The center makes it possible for people with disabilities to experience the outdoors. Brannaman liked what the group does and was training horses for those who have never had the pleasure of a ride.

"You really just try to get your idea to become the horse's idea,” he said, explaining his method. “Rather than trying to force things on the horse, you set things up and you let it happen."

Brannaman travels the country year-round helping horses with people problems. He teaches people to communicate with their horses through respect and sensitivity, not punishment.

“I don’t think of it as a punishment and reward,” he said. “A punishment is something you do when you’re late and you have terrible timing. It’s something you do after the fact, and that’s more about getting revenge.”

He said if things are going the wrong way with a horse, the rider needs to redirect it, try to change its mind and then reward the horse when it has the right idea.

Jessica Hilton, equestrian program lead instructor, said the center had a connection with Brannaman, in that he found the healing power of the horse.

Brannaman had a bit of a troubled youth. As a boy, his father abused him severely. He spent time in foster homes.

"Earlier in my life they were a refuge for me and there was a time in my life they were the only friends I had," he said.  

The center has three different kinds of equine assisted activities or therapies. All programs offer effective therapy for individuals with cognitive, behavioral or physical disability.

"Take someone that lives in a wheelchair and put them on a horse, and they are no different than someone who walks around their entire life," Hilton said.

Lisa Speckman lost three limbs from a flesh-eating disease. "(Horseback riding) has given me a better sense of balance," she said. "It's therapy in that it trains my body to recognize the new center of gravity that I have."

Brannaman and his training techniques are world famous. He is the subject of the award-winning documentary "Buck," a Sundance Film Festival premiere last year.

His mission is to make whatever aspect of life he touches is handled with care.

“A horse, they’re a little more discriminating,” he said, “so if the horse can accept you, you probably have something going on (that’s) pretty good.”

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: cmikita@desnews.com

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