What I Learned from Sally Swift, and How Her Book CENTERED RIDING Changed My Life

In 1987, when riding and teaching icon Sally Swift’s classic book CENTERED RIDING was published by Trafalgar Square Books, I was 10 years old and crazy about horses. There’s nothing much different about that fact–there were of course thousands upon thousands of horse-crazy 10-year-olds in different places around the globe that year. But that was also my first Christmas in Vermont–the rural locale to which my family had recently relocated and Sally’s home state–and it was the Christmas I received not one but TWO horse books as gifts from different benevolent relatives. Both were copies of CENTERED RIDING.

What could a 10-year-old want with two copies of the same book? And an instructional book (rather than a story book) at that? It has been just over 20 years but I remember rather studiously going through the pages, in a horse-geeky kind of way, and thinking about the images before me. It isn’t the words that I remember as much as the art–which of course was hailed at its time as ground-breaking, and the book was noted as one of the first “horse books” to use illustration in such a manner. I put one copy on my bookshelf in my room, and took the other to the barn–where I could get to it easily and where it still remains next to my childhood ribbons and trophies to this day.

Even at that age, Sally’s Four Basics made sense to me. I can actually feel what it was like to trot around the tiny paddock behind the barn on my old pony, looking around me with “soft eyes.” While for me riding had never been just drill after drill in an arena, and had yet to yield to the competitiveness that would introduce pressure and anxiety to my experience in the saddle, it still amazes me how one woman’s ideas could inspire a young equestrian to reach deeper and seek some sort of “connection” with her mount, rather than simply thrills and gratification.

I can honestly say that I think the way I thought about horses, cared for them, and rode them thereafter developed from the strong roots the concepts in CENTERED RIDING planted when I was 10 years old. Riding will never be about gloss and surface for me–it will always be grounded in a sort of sensible equestrian spirituality, if you will. I am thankful to Sally for giving my passion for horses real meaning.

It seems only fitting that when, after graduating from college and striking out on my own in the world, I returned to the Vermont town I grew up in, and quite by chance, got a job at the publishing company that brought us CENTERED RIDING so many years ago. I’ve been at Trafalgar Square Books for almost 10 years now, and my role here gave me the opportunity to meet Sally several times before her passing in 2009. She was a bright star, a quick wit, and an earnest and steady defender of the horse. I feel blessed to have learned from her books, her expressions, and her ever-fascinating conversation.

All this month we will be Remembering Sally with thoughts on her life and work from her publisher and editor, Caroline Robbins, TSB staff, and some of the TSB authors who knew her. We also invite you to share your own memories of Sally and her books on our Facebook page.

Sally’s best-selling books–CENTERED RIDING and CENTERED RIDING 2–and DVDs 1 and 2 are available at 15% off (plus free shipping) from our bookstore all month long.

Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

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