For decades now, Sally Swift has been quietly changing the horse world.
The 93-year-old author of the Centered Riding books, founder of Centered Riding Inc., and a newly inducted member into the USDF (United States Dressage Federation) Hall of Fame introduced a unique approach that made good horsemanship more accessible and easy to understand for beginners while expanding awareness for advanced riders. Sally’s teaching focuses on the rider, and horses everywhere have reaped the benefits.
Sally’s love of horses and her holistic approach to teaching are rooted in her early childhood. When she developed a lateral curvature of the spine at age seven, her mother took her to Mabel Todd, a gifted body work pioneer. Miss Todd’s “postural hygiene” set Sally on a path of self help and daily exercise that allowed her to ride, sail, ice skate and ski, at a time when other children with similar conditions faced back surgery and debilitation. Sally’s early lessons formed the basis of what eventually became Centered Riding. Later on, Sally also studied Alexander Technique and Tai Chi.
Sally Swift taught riding and worked as a dairy herd analyst, but it wasn’t until her retirement at 62 that she had the confidence to start teaching the techniques she had benefited from all her life. Her plan was to teach friends and “travel a little,” but word of mouth soon created a demand for her riding clinics first in New England, then throughout the United States, Europe and Australia. Sally “traveled a lot” and her work developed into Centered Riding.
Her book, Centered Riding, came out in 1985, and, like her clinics, was a radical departure from earlier teaching methods. The book introduced the four basics of effective riding: “Soft Eyes, Breathing, Centering, and Building Blocks”, and incorporated information from other disciplines to expand awareness of the human body and how it affects the horse.
Buoyed by the success of her clinics and her book, Sally began training apprentices in 1986. These apprentices continued her work, and today there are approximately 600 Centered Riding Instructors around the world. Instructors who have worked directly with Sally say she didn’t just teach them about riding, she brought out the best in them as people.
Sally Swift has inspired literally hundreds of riding instructors to study her ideas and follow her journey of exploration and observation. Others have been inspired by her example of hard work and humble modesty. When asked which of her Centered Riding concepts she thinks are most important, she replies simply, “Aware and Allow” – wise words to ride and live by. To learn more about Sally Swift, visit www.centeredriding.org.
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