Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews |

Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews

In 2004, American Cowboy magazine launched the National Day of the Cowboy. The following year, the late Sen. Craig Thomas (WY) introduced the first resolution designating the fourth Saturday of July as such. The date coincides with Cheyenne Frontier Days. The magazine continues to celebrate the event, as does the active National Day of the Cowboy organization headed by Bethany Braley (

This year, Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi sponsored the resolution declaring July 23, 2011, the National Day of the Cowboy. Read the official resolution at

Communities and groups across the country sponsor events acknowledging the role ranchers and cowboys fill in the Nation’s history, economy, and entertainment industry. For my part, I thought it a perfect time to take a break from yard and garden work to watch two documentaries that recently arrived in my mail box.

Showing in theaters since June 17, 2011, Buck delves into the life of Buck Brannaman, the inspiration behind the main character in the Nicholas Evans novel, The Horse Whisperer. Evans spent 10 days with Brannaman while researching the book. A long-time student of horseman and clinician Ray Hunt – who learned from natural horsemanship clinician Tom Dorrance – Brannaman shares his insight into the equine mind during his own four-day schools. On the road nine months out of the year, Brannaman says he more often finds himself helping horses who have people problems than people who have horse problems. For more on his clinics, see

Directed by Cindy Meehl, the PG-rated Buck is amassing a string of awards, among them the 2011 Sundance U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award. Following Brannaman from clinic-to-clinic, Meehl shot 300 hours of footage for the 88-minute narrative. Also included is vintage footage of Brannaman and his trick-roping brother, Smokie, back when the pair performed as an RCA/PRCA specialty act, back when the brothers were being physically abused by their father. (View the trailer at Throughout, viewers come to know the real Brannaman, portrayed by Robert Redford in the Hollywood adaptation of the novel.

Redford acknowledges that he was put off by Brannaman’s cowboy garb during a pre-production meeting, thinking it was a costume. Eventually, Redford came to understand Brannaman’s authenticity and no-nonsense depth of character. Brannaman hired on as a movie consultant and doubled for Redford, who was starring for the first time in a movie that he also directed. When a Hollywood stunt horse failed to accomplish a scene after a full day of shooting, one of Brannaman’s horses – with a bit of impromptu training-accomplished the task in less than 20 minutes.

There are no Hollywood trick horses in Buck, only real-life horses with real-life problems. The most compelling is an aggressive, predatory stud brought to a colt-starting class. Brannaman remains calm, attempting to gentle and saddle the animal. When it becomes clear it presents too much of a danger to have it in the class, he patiently coaxes it into a trailer. The encounter delivers a message transcending horses and corrals. That was the director’s goal: “to inspire, motivate and teach through principles of respect, partnership and trust rather than anger, fear and intimidation.”

For a list of theaters showing Buck or to purchase the DVD available in October, go to or For more information, contact Cedar Creek Productions, P.O. Box 1015, Georgetown, CT 06829; 203-664-1509.

Brannaman is talking to studio executives about a feature film based on his own book. Look for it in theaters in the next couple of years.

I first became acquainted with representatives of Florida’s cattle industry at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV. Crackers, as they are called, were the spotlighted cowboy culture at the 2010 gathering. An 87-minute high-definition, feature-length documentary, Florida Crackers: The Cattlemen and Cowboys of Florida, was released in April 2011. (Watch video trailers at

While cattle ranching may initially seem out of place in Florida, in fact the state has been home to cattle and horses since 1521. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon introduced the first animals into North America, in what is now Florida. In the early 1800s, settlers began moving into the region, rounding up herds that had not only survived but thrived.

Having experienced a summer of heat and high dew point temperatures here on the Northern Great Plains, I marveled at scenes of cowboys going about their business on the Coastal Plains. Running 100 head of cattle on 300 acres is appealing, but that enticement is tempered by the alligators and wild hogs that roam the area.

If you fancy yourself a cowboy or cattleman, you’ll enjoy Florida Crackers. It sells for $23.90. Order at; 954-891-4963.

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