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Centered Riding Turns 30


Compiled by Nancy Brannon

2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Centered Riding, the book that launched an international riding instruction movement. The classic text by Sally Swift has sold over half-a-million copies worldwide and has been published in 16 languages. For many horse people—across riding disciplines, and state and national borders—it changed the way practical riding instruction was disseminated, marking the first contemporary “how-to-ride” text that moved away from the formal riding books of the classical masters. The book went on to inspire an international organization devoted to riding instruction that continues to flourish today.

Centered Riding was the first “horse book” published by Trafalgar Square Books (TSB) (, a small business housed on a working cattle and horse farm in the idyllic hills of rural Vermont. In the years following Centered Riding’s release, TSB has focused on the publication of books and DVDs on horses, horse care, and riding with one mission—for the good of the horse—in mind.

Sally Swift is widely known for her innovative teaching philosophy stressing body awareness, the value of “soft eyes,” proper breathing, centering, and balance. Her methods combine functional anatomy, mental imagery, horse and rider biomechanics, and elements from the martial arts as tools to improve the balance and effectiveness of the rider. Swift is one of those pioneering riding instructors who revolutionized the art of riding in harmony with the horse – working together naturally without pain.

The ultimate goal of Centered Riding is not to be a discipline unto itself.  It must go forward in its purest and least complicated form so it may be integrated into all disciplines of riding.  ~ Sally Swift

Swift did not believe in forced training techniques that cause stiff bodies and tense riding. Instead, through the use of vivid, unusual, and highly creative images that transcend mechanics (“Pretend you're a spruce tree; the roots grow down from your center as the trunk grows up”), plus a thorough knowledge of human and equine anatomy, this wise and inspiring teacher enables the conscientious equestrian to reassess habitual responses and change to natural positions, enabling one to ride with comfort, vitality, and precision. Precise illustrations and photographs in the book explain anatomy and the inner process of mental imaging to show how to achieve these new and relaxed approaches to riding.

There are now Centered Riding instructors worldwide who continue teaching the methods that Swift developed 30 years ago. The Instructor Program which Sally developed is now taught by the Level IV Instructors who apprenticed directly with Sally (1986 - 1991) or with Level IV instructors who have apprenticed with those directly taught by Sally. Find more information about Centered Riding instruction at:

In early November (6-8), 2015 the Centered Riding International Symposium was held in The Netherlands. The program of the 2015 International Centered Riding Symposium offered Centered Riding and ‘beyond’ – not to take people into a higher level of a certain discipline, but to widen and deepen their knowledge and experience as riders and teachers. The symposium offered three lectures, workshops, and demonstrations parallel to each other, allowing the participants to ‘shop around’ and visit those items that most interested them.

About the author: Sally Swift was born in 1913 and grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts, north of Boston. She lived to be almost 96 years of age; she passed away in 2009 just weeks away from her birthday. At seven years of age, she developed scoliosis, which later was instrumental in her development of Centered Riding. Mabel Ellsworth Todd, author of The Thinking Body, was Swift’s first teacher in body awareness. Later Swift studied the Alexander Technique™ and applied it to riding. The Alexander Technique™ is a method of re-educating the mind and body towards greater balance and integration, with special reference to posture and movement. Swift’s work with this technique enabled her to discard the back brace she had worn for many years.

Sally Swift received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Riding Instructor Certification program in 1997 and in 2006, at the age of 93, Swift was inducted into the United States Dressage Foundation’s Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for those who have made a major impact on horseback riding.  In June 2008, she was presented with the seventh annual Equine Industry Vision Award by Pfizer Animal Health and American Horse Publications, an award that recognizes innovation, ingenuity and service across the entire equine market. In January 2010, Swift was posthumously awarded the United States Equestrian Federation Pegasus Award, a very prestigious award recognizing an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the equestrian sport.

Centered Riding is for every rider– from those with little experience all the way to world class.

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