Brannaman was born in 1962 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and
raised in Montana and Idaho. Brannaman was for many years a disciple of Ray
Hunt, one of the founders of the natural horsemanship movement, and also
inspired by Tom and Bill Dorrance. Brannaman now teaches clinics worldwide.
About the clinics, he has noted, "the goal for clinics really is to just
try to get the human being to understand as much about their horse as I can
help them to understand."
Brannaman had a difficult childhood, characterized by
considerable child abuse at the hands of his father, to the extent that he and
his brother spent a number of years in foster care placement. He took solace
in horses, and learned from his own experiences, to look at a situation from
the point of view of the horse. Brannaman has written:
"I've started horses since I was 12 years old and
have been bit, kicked, bucked off and run over. I've tried every physical means
to contain my horse in an effort to keep from getting myself killed. I started
to realize that things would come much easier for me once I learned why a horse
does what he does."
He later used these experiences in his career as a horse
trainer, recognizing in difficult animals the same fear and hostile reactions
he remembered from his own childhood:
"Abused horses are like abused children. They trust
no one and expect the worst. But patience, leadership, compassion and firmness
can help them overcome their pasts."
In recent years, he has become a motivational speaker for
groups outside of the horse world, frequently describing the connection between
animal abuse and abuse of children and other human beings. "For me, these
principles are really about life," says Brannaman, "about living your
life so that you're not making war with the horse, or with other people."
Brannaman is also a skilled Trick Roper, having performed
rope tricks in television commercials since he was six years old. For his
roping abilities, Brannaman also holds two spots in the Guinness Book of World
Records. Though Brannaman has said, "my dad gave us the choice of
practicing roping tricks or getting whipped," he still takes pride in his
skill, offers roping and cattle working clinics, and retains a close connection
to the historic vaquero cowboy tradition of the western United States.