T. J. Vietor Speaks: Whitehall Clinic, 1979

By T. J. Vietor
With introduction and summary by Mike Thomas, long-time friend


Terry Jo Vietor is a delightful lady at work, with family, in church and in any social venue. Having been an incredible tomboy since the age of six or less, combined with her extraordinary love for animals and particularly the horse, has led to a huge contribution to the world of quality horsemanship. Believe me, friends, even after so many years, she is just getting warmed up and finding her stride, living her life for and with the horse.

Once upon a time in Whitehall, Montana, T. J. Vietor started a filly in one of Ray Hunt’s early clinics. Her story gives insight into the integrity, honesty, and quality of life she has given to horses, family, friends and society. You see, my friends, Quality Horsemanship as taught by Ray Hunt turned out to be so much more! Horsemanship, Lifemanship, Friendships and Relationships require a lot of personal discipline without punishment from the inside of the human to the inside of the horse. We hope this story encourages young people who did not have the advantage that T. J. and I had, learning about Life with the greatest horseman of all time, Ray Hunt.

Whitehall, MT Colt Starting with Ray Hunt (Himself)

By T. J. (Herself)

I’m not sure what year it was, but I think it was around 1979 or so. If I looked up the age of my great old mare I could say for sure, but when it happened doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that it did happen, and the way that clinic impacted my soul.

I had two fillies to start. I was taking one, and I asked my good friend and college rodeo buddy Jack Kelly to start the other. Ray was still a single fellow and just getting started doing Clinics. As I remember it, he was driving a pretty well-used pickup and camper. I mention these things so you understand how very long ago this all took place.

The venue was Whitehall, Montana, on a little place located just off the interstate between Butte and Whitehall. It was an open country, unfenced for miles, with nothing but an occasional power pole and miles and miles of sagebrush.

My cousin Louie Vero, Jack and I were in the Colt Class, along with about ten or so other folks. Mind you, those were still the days that Ray would rope up a hind leg and mount you up with no halter or anything on the horses' heads. As soon as you were aboard and he felt things were right, he would turn you loose, and around you would go like so many marbles in a mixing bowl. What a blast! Of course everyone was scared to death, and there was much bantering and laughing - I'm sure in an attempt to dissuade sheer terror! Yes, we were scared, and at the same time, sure we could handle anything that happened. We knew that if Ray told us to do it and he knew we could do it, we could damn sure try! I remember, in those days when I was much younger, I knew I could ride a mountain lion if Ray told me to. If he was in the arena, I was Okay! 

Everything went very well. We got two rides on our colts, and then on the morning of day three, one of the older horses decided to rearrange the corral fence, and so freed all the colts except those whose riders had arrived early and had their colts caught.

Jack and I, and maybe one other person, were saddled up. I think we had put our snaffle bits on our horses at the end of the previous day. At any rate, when Ray showed up, he told the Colt Class that anybody who had their colts caught should go get the other horses back in. Jack and I looked at each other in total disbelief, swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and prepared to head outside.

I can still vividly remember how I felt. My filly was very hot and kept trying to run away from her tail and/or me, when she remembered I was on her back. I held on to Ray’s now-famous saying, "I can ride as fast as one can run." (Remember, Mike, how funny he would tip the brim of his hat up and bug his eyes out when he said that?) Anyway, I figured if she wasn’t trying to buck me off, I damn sure could ride her fast, so off we went. Jack Kelly took the lead, and since our fillies were buddies, we kind of hung in the same vicinity. Of course, the big bunch was a couple of miles away in a big draw, and when our colts saw them, off we went. There was no percentage in trying to do anything about it, as we hadn’t talked things over with our colts yet!

What took place that day, in the hills north of Whitehall, Montana, is forever and indelibly printed in my heart and soul. It is the most magical and spiritual experience of my life. To be aboard a beautiful animal who is running as fast as she can go, ears up and happy, mane flowing in the wind, totally unconcerned with the rider, and feeling totally free, is such an honor and a privilege to me, as close to heaven on earth as anything I can imagine. "Just reach up and pet 'em", Ray would say. You betcha, my friend. That is just what I did!

In time, we met up with the herd, dropped down to a trot and then a walk and everyone walked happily back to the corral. It wasn’t till then that we visited with our colts about a little lateral flexion! And, hey, we warmed up the colts for the other guys waiting back at the corral!

To top off the whole experience, our friend Ray was loping along another ridge about a mile away. There I was, at the same time laughing and crying with pure joy and waving. "Thank you!"  to the man who made that heaven-on-earth experience possible.

What a day! Ray - thank you!! You are in a better place, but you have left such precious memories here with those that love you. You are the Master, and you made a better person of anyone who had the honor to learn from you.

Thank you!

T. J.


Thank you, T. J. Vietor! Your story, which is only one of dozens upon dozens that happened, is a great contribution to the early clinic years of the Greatest Horseman that ever lived. Thank you again, I am proud that you and I shared those early years.

With respect,
Mike Thomas