Mt friend Sandy Rakowitz and I were discussing Sally Swift yesterday at One Heart Healing Center. Neither of us knew that at that moment, Sally Swift was probably leaving us.
Implicit in much of what I write is the basic instruction of Sally Swift. Perhaps I should have made it more explicit.
From the Centered Riding website:
Sarah Rodman Swift known to her worldwide following as “Sally Swift” passed away on April 2, 2009. Sally was less than three weeks away from reaching her 96th birthday. She was born on April 20, 1913 in Hingham, Massachusetts to Rodman “Tod” Swift and Elizabeth Townsend Swift. She had one sister, Agnes, who died in 2004.
Sally Swift was known all over the world for her innovative horse-riding methodology known as “Centered Riding.” She was the author of two books Centered Riding and Centered Riding II – Further Explorations which, together, have had sales of more than 860,000 copies worldwide in fifteen different languages. Sally was the Founder of Centered Riding, Inc., which is the non-profit organization that oversees the worldwide membership of instructors and horse riders. Sally began Centered Riding at the age of 62 upon her retirement from the Holstein Association in Brattleboro Vermont. Her first book, Centered Riding was published in 1985.
Sally Swift’s thoughts on riding technique emphasize balance and harmony in much the same way as the martial arts. The disciplines share the concepts of correct breathing, control from the center of the body, and the need for awareness and the quietness of the balanced body.” In the forward to her book, Centered Riding, Sally Swift explains her methods as, the combination of how your body works, the ability to allow it to function unhampered, and the awareness and use of energies created through you and your horse. In contrast, traditionally, athletes are urged to push, try harder, work harder, go for the burn. Unfortunately, when they approach horseback riding in this manner, the muscle tension that accompanies their efforts transfers directly to the horse, which the rider must then try harder to control, and the vicious circle ensues.¹
Swift’s use of creative imagery clarified numerous technical issues of horseback riding in a way that riders understand more clearly than all their trainers’ descriptions. Enabling her students to envision the action of their bodies on horseback liberated many from the confines of exclusively technical training to allow for a more natural connection between horse and rider.
Susan Harris, the renowned clinician and author of the classic, Grooming to Win, wasn’t sure what to think when she first learned of Sally Swift’s “centered riding” approach, a sort of Zen and the art of horseback riding. It explained how to do “all those wonderful classical things riding teachers are always talking about. For once, it was a way to discuss–and to teach–the elusive concept of feel.”
Though Swift had slowed down in her later years, her contributions to horseback riding and horsemanship continued. Certified Centered Horsemanship Instructors will no doubt carry on the tradition of “soft eyes” in riding and in life. This concept alone bridges the gap between Buddhist mindfulness and Centered Riding. (Sadly, At the time of this writing, I was researching and writing a post on this topic. I wish that I’d been further along on this.) I for one will miss the existence of Sally Swift. Her absence will leave a void in the wold.
¹ adapted from Who Is Sally Swift? by Patricia Celley