Saturday, May 23, 2009

RIP, Sally Swift

I learned today that Centered Riding Guru Sally Swift passed away in April at 95. Sally and her Centered Riding techniques inspired me as a young teenager, refining my personal riding style. As the result of multiple falls from horses while going over jumps, I had damaged my neck and upper back and was seeing a sports medicine chiropractor for treatments. I was in terrible pain while riding, and it showed. One of my several riding instructors at the time was an avid Centered Riding fan, and using Sally's method, helped me to address and overcome my pain and the root of the problem - which was not just the falls onto my head, neck, and shoulders. I was able to finally relax, "ride with my bones", move with the horse, and balance myself. This made the horses I was riding happier also.
As I began instructing at 17, I incorporated the Centered Riding method and terminology into my student's lessons, and they responded very well to it. Centered riding uses a lot of word pictures and visuals to illustrate concepts - like "soft eyes", "hard eyes," building blocks, trees growing out of your helmet, your boots dragging the ground, your arms reaching and holding the bit with your fingers; and one I use constantly with young riders: holding the reins like "little birds" - not squeezing the bird to death, but holding him just firm enough so he can't get away. The image I always held in my mind over fences was her blowing out birthday candles between the horse's ears as you go over the fence.
Tapping wine glasses for hands, and ice-cream cones for little ones are a few more of Sally's visuals I adopted. Another one I loved so much I wrote it down in my journal as one of my favorite quotes ever: "......PLUNK! Down into your boots, along with the ice cream......" What a lady. She revolutionized horseback riding, not just for hunt seat or dressage riders, but western riders as well.
Rest in peace, Sally Swift. You have left riders everywhere a amazing gift. You may be gone, but you will inspire me forever.

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