Rainy, and Real-life Ukemi

You might recall that the person who introduced me to Aikido is Mark Rashid, a teacher of horsemanship, author, and Nidan in Yoshinkan Aikido. I had participated in one of his horsemanship clinics in February of 2009, after my large, young horse, Rainy, got scared at the beginning of a ride in the mountains, gave a few good bucks, and I came off.

I’ve not ridden Rainy except maybe once or twice around the backyard since starting Aikido in May 2009. Now that I’m a lot more fit, and in somewhat better control of my breathing and body language, I thought it might be time to start riding again. My plan was to ease into it with a few minutes of walking around the backyard. Walk, turn, walk, whoa. That kind of thing. Easy peasy. Maybe another little ride tomorrow, and one Sunday, maybe.

Everything went fine today until a neighbor somewhere out of sight made a small, sudden noise. That wasn’t a problem, but Rainy’s reaction was. He spun and bolted. My limited ukemi skills served me well. When I realized I was so far off balance there was no recovering I bailed in an organized way. I was able to let go as I fell, which is surprisingly hard to do. I was able to aim away from Rainy’s legs, and toward a clear patch of soft ground just beyond a log and before a tree trunk. I must have rolled, and slammed into the tree, because I know I was diving forward and to the right, head-first, but ended up on my left side, with my feet tucked under me. Most of the road rash and bruises are down my right side: elbow, upper arm, upper and lower rib areas, hip and thigh. I have matching small-but-hard hemotomas on my mid-forearms, where I must have hit an old irrigation pipe that sticks up there. (At least I had the foresight years ago to cover it in 2" PVC pipe, to soften any such collision.) The thing that couldn’t be helped by rolling and splatting into everything as softly as possible was that Rainy’s hoof caught an 8-foot-long 6-inch peeler log as he ran by, and tossed it across the middle of my upper back.

Michael was watching, and I hollered that I was OK, but I didn’t want to move until I was sure everything was working properly. Fingers, check. Toes, thank goodness, check. Neck, no pain. Back, only the breath-catching feeling that I’d just been hit with a heavy log, but no real damage. I got up, gathered up Rainy, who was standing near the house, snorting, and got back on. After a short but successful little ride to assure us both that Riding Isn’t Such a Big Deal I hopped off and let him loose in the yard.

There’s no real damage – nothing that time and ice packs won’t heal, thankfully. But it was a pretty clear wake up call that I need to take a few giant steps backward, and start training Rainy from the beginning. No hopping on and riding for a good while yet, even around the yard. Lots of groundwork ahead. Lots of tiny steps, and tiny goals. Patience, and diligent, focused work on a thousand little details that make up the bigger picture of a good working relationship with one’s horse.

Today’s little wreck was discouraging, but diagnostic. I know where we stand, and the direction we need to go. It’s going to take some work, but the challenges are not insurmountable.

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