We all fit into some kind of group, usually more than one. We are Americans (of a specific region), whatever gender role we designate, fans of this or that, and hobbyists. Each group with which we identify has specific stereotypes, true or only very loosely based on truths, that come along with those groups. In addition to to the groups we actually conform with, there are the groups we wish we could conform with. We all know these folks as “wanna-b’s”.
Last night, I had a unique opportunity to explore a group I had only observed from the fringe: horse people. There is nothing as conducive to observation, as a convention in the makings. When you walk around during a convention during its preparation period, people make assumptions of you. You must, in some way, be part of the group, or (if carrying a camera) at least an official of some sort.
Last night I spent several hours walking around the Quarter Horse Congress at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. If you walk around with a vague smile and a camera, people think of you as part of the furniture, and they chit chat un-restrainedly in front of you. Or at least certain types of people do. Others actually seek you out, permitting the observations to go well beyond any words that come from their mouths.
I learned there were three general types of people at this convention: festival people (who are there to facilitate the convention), horse people (which come in the varieties of Owners and Workers), and wanna-b horse people. Each group containing their own unexpected nuances and surprising stereotypes-types.
The most useful information comes form festival people, especially those who have been to the same convention multiple times. These individuals can spot the difference between a horse owner, horse trainer, and wanna-b without even speaking to them. It’s not even just the way they walk or carry themselves, but they way they interact with others. It doesn’t necessarily take time to develop this skill, but it is very useful when choosing subjects.
Obviously those riding or leading horses are genuine horse people. These individuals meet your eye and usually nod or smile, independent of camera, even if you are walking through their training grounds. Although what little previous experience I have had with horse people has been pleasant, this was very unexpected.
Unexpected as well, was the eagerness with which they shared their thoughts. It’s not every day someone asks, “How do you see yourself verses the people who just want to be like you?” In spite of the startling question, these folks were genuinely flattered by the wanna-b’s, and didn’t seem to consider themselves as different from folks who don’t even like horses. Surprised to discover they were horse people, the owners were as entertained by my questions as they were by their wine.
I did not need to ask before realizing this cluster contained two sub-groups. The owners were all smiles and relaxation, while across form them, the trainer and his assistant were pleasantly intense. Anxious to point out that many owners also competed, those who actually worked with the horses were much more technical in their explanations and the direction of their conversation. Even those who mucked the stalls seemed genuinely glad to be participating in the day’s work.
On the other hand, the wanna-b’s were very self-focused and if not directly un-friendly, negligent at the least. These were the people who looked right through the insignificant others, barely saying hello if they thought it was required. Admittedly, most of these individuals were there for work, and likely pre-occupied, however, even within this particular group of people, those who actually had horses stood out.
It was not until after I had interacted with them, and made my own assumptions, that I discovered rather they were genuine horse people or just wanna-b’s. Without fail, the genuine friendliness of their greetings indicated their horsemanship; those individuals who worked with horse were direct and actually hesitated their momentum. Those who did not barely broke their stride to shake my hand before they were off gossiping about something they had just heard. It was this realization that instigated this investigation.
After taking some time to observe and interact with known subjects, I decided to find the festival people who have interacted with thousands of these individuals. Most of us forget that those who serve us as customers, also observe us. My experience previous to last night lead me to expect the horse people would tend towards rudeness to servers than wanna-b’s, but the evenings revelations had me eager to find out if I was wrong. I was.
Apparently the friendliness of horse people extends to beyond interviewers and photographers. Larger tips and higher degrees of patience can be found in those who have or work with horses, then those who do not, at least at the Quarter Horse Congress. Usually, the most reproachable behavior comes from the employees of other vendors, particularly those dressed like horse people (as opposed to those in street clothes). Unfortunately one company was even specifically named, though that may have been more about the proximity of the booths.
This was not a perfect investigation. Had I spent the three weeks of Congress observing the patrons, my observations may have been different. I also have to wonder that the age of the wanna-b’s contributes to the behavior, since there did seem to be higher maturity among the horse people, but age was not questioned. This was simply a glimpse of a moment used for the learning opportunity it was.
IN addition to learning about horses, horse competition and the people participating, I learned about personal perception. We rarely see ourselves within the specific groups we represent. It does not matter what we think we are, but what we project. Whatever group others might put us in, we always represent ourselves. Rather we intend to or not, our behaviors reflect the kind of persona we are. Are we so selfish we cannot say hello? Are we so distracted we can’t even meet a stranger’s eye? Or are we so confident that we adapt to surprises, eager to share with those who want to learn?
I am a wanna-b. I am a wanna-b mother, and a wanna-b perfect wife. I wanna-b a traveler and a giver and a bringer of peace and tolerance. I am also a genuine member of different groups. I am very successful as a female and friend. I make being a granddaughter look good. I even make being certifiably crazy look good. Whatever I may be to myself, or whatever you may see me as, it is still mine to behave in a way that reflects the goodness within. Wanna-b whatever you want to be; but make sure what you are is genuine.