One of the things I love about my job is the chance to meet new and interesting people. A long time ago, a college professor told me, “Everybody has a story. Your job as a journalist is to find it.” And he was right. Everybody has a story, whether you think you do or not.
Many times, people don’t believe their story is different from anyone else’s. After all, you’ve lived your life; to you, it may not seem special or extraordinary. But some of the best stories I’ve been privileged to hear over the years have come from people who claimed their lives were “boring” or “ordinary.” The truth was usually the exact opposite. They were some of the most interesting people I’ve been blessed to know.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet someone new in the cutting horse world. The reason for our interview was his purchase of a high-dollar horse at a sale. A $400,000 horse, to be exact. When friends told me Dan and Nancy Burkes had only been involved in cutting horses for six months before signing the ticket on the expensive 2-year-old, I knew I had to find out why.
Like many successful businessmen, Dan was gracious and accommodating. I enjoyed hearing how he and his wife, Nancy, got involved in cutting in Minnesota, and how she rallied fellow cutters together to haul to enough shows to qualify for the NCHA Western National Championships in as many classes as they could, making the long trip to Reno worthwhile. Dan’s riding goals don’t extend farther than riding a good turnback horse now and again, yet he loves the sport and has gladly jumped in with both feet, purchasing show stock for his wife and futurity prospects for trainers.
He is exactly the kind of person I love to meet, because invariably, I learn something from the encounter that enriches my life or makes me a better person. Dan’s contribution to my knowledgebase came from an observation he had made as he and his wife delved into the cutting horse industry. Cutters, he said, are adventurers. They are the same people you might have seen five years ago at the yacht club, and could see five years from now on the ski slopes. They seek adventure, wherever they might find it. Lucky for us, some of them find it with horses.
I thought about Dan’s observation for a long time, and began to consider the many reasons people decide to get involved in the horse industry. At the risk of overly simplifying things, I came to the conclusion that people either look at horses as a passion or as a hobby, and the two are very different.
A hobby is “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” If you are trying to make a living in the horse industry, it is definitely not your hobby. If you have a horse that you ride on the weekends, horses might be your hobby. I’ve known some horse owners through the years for whom horses were strictly a hobby. They rode a few times a week, maybe even showed regularly. But when circumstances changed, as they can, they sold their horses and walked away. They cherished the experiences they had, but were not heartbroken to be moving on to new adventures.
For others, horses are a passion. Jenika, a photography blogger who also happens to have an M.A. in clinical psychology, differentiated a hobby from a passion by writing: “Passions don’t leave you alone. Passions insert themselves into your life, whether you have time for them or not. Passions soothe you and drive you crazy at the same time. We think of a passion as something we love, an overwhelming feeling of devotion and obsession. But in older English, ‘passion’ also meant ‘suffering.’ And even now, passions will exact a high price from us – but one we never seem to mind paying. You know you’ve found your passion when you will continue to pursue it despite what it may cost you.”
People who are passionate about horses save their pennies and eat Ramen noodles to pay board and training bills. They ride in good weather and in bad, before work and after work, whenever time allows. They can count the cost in sleepless nights with sick horses, holidays spent doing barn chores and discretionary income spent on tack and equipment rather than cars and vacations. Even if circumstances leave them without a horse for a while, they hang on, finding a way to associate with horse people and get their “horse fix,” biding their time until it’s their turn again. I’ve known many horse owners through the years for whom horses were their passion.
Is one better than the other? Absolutely not. Sometimes, what starts as a hobby grows into an all-consuming passion, and the industry is better because of it. And sometimes, people who view horses as a hobby decide to leave and pursue other interests. We need them while they’re here, and there are probably more of them out there than you think. Hopefully their experiences in the horse industry were good ones that are shared with friends and colleagues, potentially planting the seed for someone else to want the horse experience, too.
There is a lot of talk in our industry about how to keep people hooked. How do we retain the people we already have, while at the same time attracting new people? I believe one of the best ways we can retain people is to embrace the adventurer. Welcome with open arms the owner who buys a horse as a hobby, and recognize that a hobby is something you do because you want to, not because you have to. Even if they never develop the passion for horses so many of us recognize, that person still might stick around for five, 10 or even 20 years, as long as they’re having fun.
The great communicator Dale Carnegie once wrote: “Today is life – the only life you are sure of. Make the most of today. Get interested in something. Shake yourself awake. Develop a hobby. Let the winds of enthusiasm sweep through you. Live today with gusto.”
So let’s promote the horse industry with gusto. Be enthusiastic. Make it fun. And remember that, passion or hobby, we’re all adventurers, sharing the best parts of our lives – the parts that include horses – together.