Who Am I This Time is the name of a short story written by Kurt Vonnegut and made into a film with Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon.  It’s a quirky story about two people of very different and uncomfortable personalities -who fall in love while acting in a community theater production of Streetcar. (Hear Walken’s painfully shy, tongue-tied character roar, “Stella!!” during the play within a movie. He is remarkable.) I continue to be a Vonnegut fan unstuck in time and traveling back into his writing frequently.

I am reminded of this particular story while working with horses and riders; it’s the question horses ask each time a different rider climbs on. Who am I this time? Do I care to listen? Can I be lazy? Is this a substitute teacher or she-who-must-be-obeyed? (Or best question-) Can I dance with you?

Most of us have the experience of mud-wrestling with our horse until we are too frustrated to breathe, only to see our trainer ride that same horse like an Olympic hopeful. Most of us know horses like the mare I rode as a child; she routinely tried to kill grown men but treated me like treasure.

If it wasn’t so humiliating it would be easier to respect our horses for their ability to accept each rider without assumption. Horses aren’t fooled by expensive breeches or big talk in the barn aisle They simply see us for who are as riders. He may be a Grand Prix horse but if you are training level, well, there you are.

Horses are brutally honest. I think it’s their best quality. In a world of actors and roles to be played, I know exactly where I stand with horses. I may not always like it but I do trust it.

But wait! It was Shakespeare who said, “Assume that virtue though you have it not.” He knew a thing or two about acting. Maybe acting like a good rider is a start.

Sometimes our personality isn’t the best match for where our horse is at the moment -but acting the part of a confident rider might begin a path from being the Odd Couple to Fred and Ginger in Shall We Dance?

Do you have a Tom Hanks of a gelding? Maybe he’d do better with a Meg Ryan rider than a Church Lady rider. Can acting the part of a happy, enthusiastic Meg Ryan sort of rider really be considered dishonest?

Do you have a Meryl Streep (in any role she ever played) sort of mare? Is it too much to ask to be a Katherine Hepburn (in any role she ever played) sort of rider?

Who are you this time? Who do you want to be?

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

(Photo: Nube’ in his Jim Morrison phase.)

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Comment by Marlene Thoms on May 28, 2011 at 11:58am
Horses are great teachers but they are so smart about it, many riders don't realize their horse is training them. That's okay with me because it works both ways, its a give and take. I have my moments, he has his. I don't think I ever got to mud wrestle a horse, maybe because I just take a little longer to get to what I want, and I catch more flies with honey and a little (okay sometimes a lot) of patience. The first little filly I rode regularly was a fiesty untrained two year old who wouldn't let any of the other kids stick with her, so I got her by default. I don't think it was confidence on my part, I just didn't know any better. She never dumped me and we carried on from there. I just find it easier to avoid a battle and work around problem behaviors, till I get my way.
Comment by Jackie Cochran on May 27, 2011 at 11:22am

What I am is an unsteady, easily exhausted handicapped lady who, by the way, expects to be obeyed.  It often takes a few grumbles from the horse until they agree to go along with me.  But after a while sometimes we do dance (when I'm not collapsed with exhaustion.)

It usually pays for me to act like a confident rider.  The horses are always ready to point out my faults.  If they don't my riding teacher will!

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