I was helping a friend clean stalls that other day and chatting, as one does, while we worked. I relayed a story about a horse owner I knew years ago with exceptionally specific demands when it came to the depth and arrangement of the bedding in her horse’s stall. I’ll spare you the details, but will say that rulers were involved.

“Horse people are weird,” my friend observed as I finished my tale. “They sure are,” I replied habitually. But almost immediately after the words left my mouth I stopped short. I stared at the wooden stall wall that divided my friend and myself and silently questioned what I had just said. “Are horse people really that weird?” I thought.

I thought about friends of mine with other passions and hobbies, and the stories they’ve told me about their groups and concerns. “Yoga people are nuts,” a friend of mine once warned me as she rolled up her mat. “You haven’t seen strange until you’ve been to a scrapbooking convention,” another friend told me years ago as we flipped through album pages documenting her latest vacation. Surely you’ve heard similar: Cat people? Crazy. Sci-Fi fans? Unhinged. Fans of certain professional sports team? Don’t get me started.

What do all these groups have in common, beyond their alleged lunacy? We are all passionate about something. Whether we call it a hobby or a lifestyle, we are dedicated to something outside of ourselves and pursue our interests with such intensity that it becomes part of our identify, in our own eyes and those of others. That’s not necessarily bad. Without different passions, life would be a boring, homogenous slog through the days.

But horse people, like yoga people, scrapbookers, cat lovers and football fans, are also humans, with all the standard human failings—like when the passions that give our lives meaning expose the more disagreeable parts in our personalities. We sweat too many details, get caught up in very specific dramas and furiously boil what we love down to fixations that aren’t always productive or healthy. It happens.

As I finished up that stall, a second realization dawned on me: The owner with the very specific bedding demands was motivated only by wanting the best for her horse. She was acting as an advocate for him, which is what all good owners do. Her heart was in the right place, even if her methods were a bit inartful. And that deserves to be called something other than “weird.”

So I’m going to make an effort to strike the “horse people are weird” phrase and all its variations from my conversations and inner dialogue. I’d encourage you to try also. (This applies even—and especially—to people who are in different parts of the horse world from yours: Dressage riders may seem weird to the roping crowd, but I assure you, they are staring back at you equally perplexed.) If we can cut ourselves and each other a little slack, barns, arenas and show venues across the country may become incrementally nicer places, and that wouldn’t that be weird? 

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