Where Shades of Gray Don’t Exist

Where Shades of Gray Don’t Exist

One thing about animals is they don’t see the world in shades of gray. Animals are very black and white: Things are either right or they’re wrong. Not almost right, or kind of wrong. Most of the truly great animal trainers operate the same way, which is what makes them truly great.

In a recent commentary I talked about Tommie Maier, horseman and founder of Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls. Today I talk about “Uncle Joe” Vanorio. Tommie and Uncle Joe were horse trainers before they were people trainers; and did a fantastic job with both.

Tommie and Uncle Joe’s stories inspired me to begin writing about the parallels between good animal training and good people training. Simple, straight forward thinking, clearly communicated with patience, kindness and commitment wins every time.

Uncle Joe Vanorio

Joe Vanorio was employed as Tom Mix’s stunt double moving on to work with Gary Cooper and other western film stars.

Joe Vanorio was employed as Tom Mix’s stunt double moving on to work with Gary Cooper and other western film stars.

“Uncle Joe” Vanorio was/is a legend. In his day he was Tom Mix’s stunt double, and the only judge in what was then American Horse Shows Association, to have his “Big R” in all breeds and all disciplines (which means he could judge anything). Uncle Joe was referenced in Helen Crabtree’s book about Saddle Seat Equitation as the title holder for the most Saddle Seat Equitation Champions at Madison Square Garden; he had retired to teach and judge before Helen took over that title.

Most of all, Uncle Joe was the consummate horseman and gentleman. One of the most important things he taught me about training a horse is also one of the most important things in life. He said, “Every little bit is a little bit more.” Which meant: Take it easy, do it correctly, and be grateful for every little step in the right direction.

Uncle Joe also taught me to recognize a “ counterfeit” and to never put a horse in a situation where his natural abilities aren’t in use. Or try to pass a counterfeit off as a champion.