Don’t judge a book by its cover

If presented properly, harness racing can be interesting to newcomers.

by Trey Nosrac

“One person with passion is better than 40 who are merely interested.”

E.M. Forster

When we encounter another person with a quirky passion, our thoughts are: What do they see in that? The “that” can be almost anything, for example: book collecting. A bibliophile, bibliolater, or bookman (bookwoman) is madly devoted to books.

“Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it,” said Jeanette Winterson.

Often, understanding what an unusual passion consists of can be complicated. What does a person who spends a lifetime collecting books do? Is the thrill of the hunt their motivation? Does a bibliophile feed their ego simply by involvement? Do they search in person, or today, is their quest for books online? Is the goal of a book collector to make money via buying and selling? Do they organize, catalog, and display books, or do they put their books in storage? Is it a competition to find rare books? Are they interested in ancient texts, rare books, books for speculation, or building a personal library? Do they seek collections by authors or by eras of first publication?

If you substitute “book collecting” with “harness horse racing,” you see a parallel world. We are both rather eclectic groups of people with a passion that can sometimes be expensive. Our diversity makes it challenging to explain our obsession in a few words. We have long learning curves with a scarcity of teachers. Is our passion wagering on racing, training or breeding horses? Are we a business, a sport, a gambling enterprise, an agricultural endeavor, or a hobby?

The entryway into any niche world can be complex. New book collectors do not wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to collect books passionately.” Nor do they answer the plea, “Join us. Collecting books is great.”

Imagine meeting someone at a coffee shop in Alaska and asking, “Why don’t you join me in harness racing, a sport where a single horse pulls a cart with a passenger for one mile in competition with other horses and carts.”

Recruitment of new devotees for unusual pastimes such as book collecting or harness horse racing is challenging. We are not trendy. We do not have Internet influencers or employees with the specific task of driving participants in our direction. We are not on television. Enticing new individuals to deep involvement is a slow process, and today’s world goes so fast.

Finding new people who enjoy our old passion is up to us. Allow a few thoughts when a possible newbie appears:

• Take a new candidate to either a breeding farm or a yearling sale and let them know these are the places where dreams begin.

• Don’t try to introduce every area of harness racing at once. Pick the stream of interest the recruit seems most interested in and stick to that area.

• Go slowly, very slowly, in that area for a specific time frame. For example, invite the person to follow your young trotting filly through a racing season. Follow that single horse until October. Put on blinders for most other aspects of the sport.

• Tug the interest rope with a positive, fun attitude. Be determined. Don’t just let the new participant wander in the field. Hook them up and walk with them often.

• Use the Internet as a friend. Online resources can educate new participants.

• Embrace our rural roots and outdoor settings. Mention and demonstrate how racing horses can get people out of the house to farms, paddocks, and racetracks, all far from the beeping phone.

Essential in any approach is to put yourself on the other side of the fence and have a positive, upbeat attitude. Imagine an acquaintance takes you into their study to show you a collection of hardback books about fishing published between 1900 and 1930. At first, you may be bored or baffled, but your host is proud and excited. You are slightly intrigued. The positive vibe of this collector is infectious. You think, “Hey, my favorite author is humor writer Jay Cronley. What if I collect a copy of each of his books? That would be cool.” A seed gets planted.

Sound crazy? So, what do you get out of being a recruiter? You may be pleasantly surprised at the joy of lighting the fire or passing the torch. As for me, I’m off to hunt for Jay Cronley books.