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Softening your jaw can improve your rein contact, and your horse's forwardness and suppleness.

Softening your jaw can improve your rein contact, and your horse’s forwardness and suppleness.

I’m a tooth grinder, a jaw clencher, a cheek-chewer—my masseters are where anxiety and pressure get together and wrestle, while frustration punches the walls of my mouth in the background. I know I can blame my afternoon headaches on this tension lollapalooza going on right below my brain, but it never occurred to me my horse might be shaking his head because of the tightness transferred to him from mine.

In her immensely useful new book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, biomechanics specialist and riding instructor Wendy Murdoch explains that softening your jaw will improve your rein contact, inviting your horse to stretch down and be more forward.

“You might be surprised by how much effect your jaw has on your horse,” Wendy says. “Horses often mirror the rider’s behavior and movement. If you are having a problem getting your horse to stop leaning on the bit, bracing his neck, or tensing his jaw when you ride, it is time to examine what you are doing with your jaw.”

Next time you ride, notice your jaw. Do you clench your teeth? Do you hold one side tighter than the other? Do you pull your jaw in and up in order to “sit up straight”? Do you push your chin out as you ride transitions or go over jumps? Do you tense your tongue or push it against the side of your mouth?

The masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in your body.

The masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in your body.

Relaxing the jaw frees your head, neck, upper chest, and shoulders—the horse’s too. Your jaw needs to be relaxed and moveable when you ride. Clamping on one side or both sides increases your body tension, especially in the shoulder area. Excessive protraction (sticking your chin out) or retraction (pulling your chin in) will create tension along the back and front of your body. Your horse feels this tension through the saddle, causing him to react in a similar way by tensing his jaw, shoulders, and back.

Try this 5-Minute Fix to improve your rein contact and encourage your horse to let go of excessive tension in his body.

 

SOFTEN YOUR JAW

  1. Observe what you do with your jaw when you drive your car, work at the computer, or watch TV. Find out how often you tense, retract, or protract your jaw. Does the angle of your car seat make you stick your chin forward? Put a sticky note on your computer to remind you to let your jaw soften while you type.
  2. How many fingers (one on top of the other) can you insert in your mouth? If you can’t get more than two, then your masseter muscles are really contracted! Practice sliding your lower jaw forward and back with your teeth parted. Use the tips of two fingers placed just inside your mouth as a guide to prevent you from closing the jaw.
  3. Slide your jaw from one side to the other side. Which direction is easier? Think of making flat circles (parallel to the ground) with your lower jaw as if it were a plate sliding around below your upper jaw. Rest and feel how these movements help you soften your jaw, tongue, neck, and shoulder area.
  4. When mounted, notice what you do with your jaw. Do you clamp your teeth? Does the tip of your tongue press against your palate? If so, allow it to rest behind the lower front teeth. This will relax your tongue.
  5. Practice sliding your jaw forward and back and from side to side while in the saddle. Observe your horse: What does he do with his back and neck when you soften your jaw?
  6. Keep your teeth just slightly parted, consciously relaxing your masseter muscles. You can touch them occasionally as a reminder to stay soft. Feel how this softens your neck, shoulders, and upper back. How does this affect your contact?

 

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CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

Find more great 5-Minute Fixes in Wendy Murdoch’s 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES and her bestseller 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP NOW

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TSB author Wendy Murdoch at the 2014 USPC Annual Meeting and Equine Educational Symposium, where she was a presenter.

TSB author Wendy Murdoch at the 2014 USPC Annual Meeting and Equine Educational Symposium, where she was a presenter.

We caught up with ever-busy instructor and clinician Wendy Murdoch following her stint presenting at the 2014 USPC Annual Meeting and Equine Educational Symposium and asked her to tell us HOW those fabulous 5-Minute Fixes of hers can really work to make us better riders in no time. Here, Wendy breaks it down for us, while giving us a chance to try one of her favorite Fixes for ourselves.

Wendy’s book 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING has been an overwhelming hit since TSB published it four years ago. Now Wendy’s highly anticipated follow-up is finally here! You can order 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES at the TSB online bookstore (CLICK HERE).

 

TSB: Your new book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES is a follow-up to the bestselling 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING. Is it really possible to improve your riding and jumping skills in only 5 minutes? How are your techniques effective when they require so little time?

WM: Many of the Fixes in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES can definitely be done in only 5 minutes! That’s the thing that I think is so important for the reader to understand. It doesn’t have to take months, years or decades to improve your performance over fences. What is necessary is a clear understanding of your own body and how it works.

Take the hip joints, for example. One question I ask at all my clinics is, “Where are your hip joints?” More than 90 percent of people think that their hips are where their belt rests rather than where the joints actually are. I find this misconception of hip location across the USA and Europe, and in riders of all disciplines. (So this isn’t just a problem for people who jump!) But in 5 minutes, you can read the chapter in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES on locating your hips from the front, both on the ground and on the horse, and make a tremendous difference in your riding and in your horse’s performance!

Other Fixes may take a bit more time to learn and practice, but once learned it will only take 5 minutes in your mounted warm-up to remind yourself of the lesson and therefore improve your riding. And, of course, there are so many exercises you can do off the horse, which you can practice while at the grocery store, at your desk at work, or while sitting at a boring dinner party!  Doing just a few minutes of your favorite 5-Minute Fixes every day can significantly improve your riding not to mention your ease and comfort throughout your day.

I believe my techniques are effective for several reasons:

 

Accuracy

Accuracy is important because we communicate our desires to the horse through our physical body, which interfaces with the horse through the saddle. If we restrict one joint in the body, all the other joints become restricted. With my 5-Minute Fixes I am not telling you to find your hips somewhere in the general area of your pelvis. I show you how to find the joint from four different perspectives so that you know exactly where this most critical joint is in your own body. When the rider is accurate it takes very little to aid the horse because the message to the horse is clear and concise, something that is very important during a jump round. This degree of accuracy is lacking in most riding instruction.

I hear world-class instructors demonstrate and tell their students that their hip joints are the boney projections on the pelvis (called the ASIS—Anterior Superior Iliac Spine). These instructors will go on to say “put your hips in the saddle.” This is physically impossible! The students try to do as instructed, but because this instruction is totally inaccurate, the riders become increasingly restricted in the hips. The tension in the rider’s body goes right into the horse, who then also becomes stiff. After that, it usually becomes the horse’s problem for not performing correctly!

 

Correct Function

I have spent my lifetime learning, understanding, and teaching good body function for horses and for humans, on and off the horse. When I say “function” I mean the rider’s use of her body in a way that works with how the skeleton is designed. Using our body efficiently minimizes injuries, helps to prevent falls, and significantly decreases fear, as well as improves our horse’s performance.

The nervous system recognizes when we are in good balance on the horse and warns us through the emotion of fear when we are unstable or unprepared to jump a certain height. Ignoring this fear means we run the risk of injury. When my students learn how to flatten their lower back, for example, this fear immediately decreases. Therefore our emotional state is tied to our physical position. If we ignore emotional warning signals, we run the risk of getting hurt. Honoring our fear and learning to be more secure makes riding over fences much safer and more enjoyable.

The first section of 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES explains this fundamental position of the lower back and pelvis, which is critical a secure position over fences. The position I describe had been taught for centuries as the forward seat since it was first developed by Caprilli in the late 1800s.  Unfortunately, since the 1980s, this basic position has been replaced with a hollowed lower back position, which puts the rider and horse on the forehand and is very insecure. To overcome this fundamental flaw, riders grip, squeeze, lean on the horse’s neck, limit the height of their fences, or quit jumping altogether. Throughout my new book I explain the biomechanics of good function and its relationship to the horse so that the reader understands the basic principles that govern jumping.

 

Simple

It all sounds rather complicated when I try to explain why my 5-Minute Fixes are effective, but I think it all comes down to taking complex concepts and breaking them down into simple practical lessons. In my books the anatomy and function behind the lessons are separated out into sidebars. The lessons themselves are divided into “On the Ground”—meaning off the horse—and “On the Horse” mounted lessons. This way the busy reader/rider can skip the sidebars one day, and just do the lessons, or alternatively study the anatomy or only do an unmounted portion of the lesson on the days she can’t ride.

 

Feeling Differences/Asking Questions

I think the reason my techniques can be so effective is because I teach the student to feel, think, and sense differences, and therefore have the knowledge needed to choose what is best for her and her horse. You might say I make the student responsible to her horse rather than to the instructor.

Most riding instruction is based on a military way of teaching, which takes the student’s power away: The instructor tells you what (not how) to do something, and you are to do that no matter what. There is no consideration for the student’s level of understanding, competency, pain, previous injuries, or ability to comprehend the task. This style of teaching makes the student totally dependent on the teacher who determines what is “right” or “wrong.” The rider is at the mercy of the instructor.

I want my students to be knowledgeable, independent, empowered, and able to make decisions for themselves. When I first start working with a student who has been taught by a very demanding instructor, it becomes immediately apparent that the student is simply trying to please me with her performance. It takes a few lessons before the student can start to move away from this behavior and start to listen to how her horse responds. Rather than telling the rider what I want her to do, I ask her to feel a new position—for example, flattening her lower back vs. a hollow-backed position. Then I have her ride while going back and forth between the “new place” (flat lower back) and the “old place” (hollow back), without judgment!

This is very difficult at first because the rider is terrified she is going to get it “wrong,” which prevents her from feeling how her horse is responding to her position. But after a little while, I say, “The horse gets to vote.” This puts the responsibility on the rider and her observation of the horse’s response to her change in position. 

This style of teaching, where someone is asking you questions rather than telling you what to do, is hard to grow accustomed to, at first. But in the end, the rider who takes responsibility for her learning, experiences, and decisions, while listening to her horse, will achieve the kind of true partnership she is seeking.

 

Wendy was a recent guest on the Horse Radio Network's "Horses in the Morning" show. Click the image to listen.

Wendy was a recent guest on the Horse Radio Network’s “Horses in the Morning” show. Click the image to listen.

 

TSB: How might your JUMPING FIXES apply to riders who don’t jump competitively, or don’t jump at all? What can every rider learn from this book?

WM: That’s the best part about this book! There is so much information that applies to all disciplines, not just jumping. I wanted to write about jumping because there isn’t anything on the market that tells riders how to achieve a good jumping position, but I wrote a book with lessons that apply to all types of riding.

I see so many people who want to learn to jump but are afraid, or who limit themselves to cross-rails because they don’t have a good base of support. I have also taught top competitive jumper riders who are missing some of the fundamentals I outline. The information in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES is the basis for the United States Pony Club’s “Basic Balance Position” over fences for all Rating Levels. Once they start using my Fixes, the adult amateur hunter/jumper students I teach are more successful in the show ring and find they can ride without pain, something many of them are experiencing when they first come to me. Of course, many of my students simply want to enjoy trail riding, fox hunting, and being able to jump over a log or get up out of the saddle while galloping with me across the Masai Mara in Kenya (a horseback safari trip I take regularly). The lessons in my new book apply to these riders, too.

I always say: “Gravity is not discipline specific.” No matter what discipline or breed of horse you ride, you still can benefit from knowing how to flatten your back; find your hips; free your hips, knees, and ankles; and soften your jaw. These topics and more are covered in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES—while they may be described in conjunction with a forward position, the lessons themselves apply to anyone who rides.

 

TSB: What is one of your favorite JUMPING FIXES and why?

WM: Oh that’s easy. My favorite Fix is “Grounding Your Foot for a Good Base of Support.” This lesson comes from Dr. Feldenkrais, who developed the Feldenkrais Method®, and it is called the “Artificial Floor” to those that know his work. To me, this was the most brilliant idea he ever had because it is so simple, yet so profound. I adapted it to the saddle in 2001 when I started my Feldenkrais Training.

I don’t know if riding instructors have realized it yet, but my books are written in a way that they can be used as lesson plans for teaching—you can take one lesson a week to teach to your students. If there is one lesson I could persuade all riding instructors to use with their students, this one is it!

You do need an assistant or instructor when doing this lesson on the horse, but the unmounted lesson is also fabulous. For years I have taught the unmounted part: balancing a board on the hands and feet and then rolling over. This teaches the students how to have “independent” limbs, coordinate movement, and learn about timing rather than force or speed. Of course, it also causes lots of laughter and it is fun! I have students in their sixties who can roll over with four boards when younger riders can’t, meaning age is not a deterrent, while body awareness and control are the keys.  

The reason the mounted portion of this lesson is so profound is that riders do not realize how hard they push against the stirrups. They become accustomed to the pressure so it becomes normal. This affects their joints, their movement, and the horse’s movement because that pressure is transmitted to the horse’s shoulder area through the stirrup bar. Excessive pressure on the stirrups can cause a lot of problems, especially when jumping, because during the landing phase the force of the rider coming down on the stirrups goes right into saddle through to the horse’s back, which can cause pain and lameness. The “Grounding Your Foot” lesson shows you that you don’t have to brace against the stirrups to be secure in the saddle. Instead, having flexible joints to absorb the horse’s motion is better for both horse and rider.

When riders feel the difference in their legs after doing this Fix, they come back for more—and so do the horses, who immediately sense a change in the pressure on their back. This is such a win-win-win Fix, I hope everyone will try it!

 

Ready to try “Grounding Your Foot for a Good Base of Support,” one of the 5-Minute Fixes from Wendy Murdoch’s new book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES? Here are the steps to the unmounted lesson:

Step 1

Step 1

1 While lying on your back place a small board or child’s book on the bottom of one bare foot. Repeat the process of placing the board on and off your foot a few times. For many students this alone is a real challenge! Be patient with yourself. Or, you can have someone place the board on your foot for you. If you are having great difficulty with your foot do Steps 5 and 6 first. This way you can let your hand teach your foot how to do the movements. How much of your foot touches the board? Do all of your toes touch? If you spread them apart can more toes touch? Be sure to relax your toes.

Step 2

Step 2

2 Explore moving the board in a variety of directions: closer to your head; farther away; taking the whole leg to the side; and rotating the foot and knee in and out. Watch your foot as you do this. Can you keep the board from falling off? Go slower in order to control your movements. Do not be frustrated if the board falls. Simply try again going slower next time. The board highlights the orientation of your foot as you move. If it drops off, simply put it back on and continue. Falling off is part of the process of learning. Figure out why it dropped off rather than getting frustrated when it happens. Explore moving other parts of your body (hips, knee, lower back) to keep the foot oriented upward toward the ceiling.

3 Take the board off your foot and rest frequently so that you can sense and feel the effect. Often the learning process happens during the rest. When you begin again you will find you can do the movements more easily than before. Pay attention to where you feel tired or strained, and to your breathing. Holding your breath will make the exercise harder. Go slowly and rest frequently, or leave the lesson and come back later after you have had a break.

Step 4

Step 4

4 Repeat the process lying on your stomach.

5 Roll onto your back and place the board on your hand. Explore moving the board around in all the ways you explored with your foot. Feel how much easier it is to do this! In general, we are much more aware of how to move our hands than our feet. Rest.

Step 5

Step 5

6 Roll onto your stomach and again place the board on your hand. At first this may seem more limiting, but take a few moment to see where you can go. You might even find you can roll over onto your back without losing the board!

7 Put the board on the foot again. Is it easier now that you have explored the idea with your hand? Can you move your leg in a circle without the board falling off? Stand up and walk around noticing the difference between your two feet.

8  Repeat with your other foot and hand. Which limb is easier? Does this easier side correspond to your “weaker leg” when you ride? Perhaps this is your supple leg and it is the other one—the “stronger” one—that is too rigid. When you ride, notice if your legs feel more even when you can do the foot on the board exercise in a similar manner on both sides.

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

 

40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

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Do you have trouble keeping your hands steady? Does your instructor yell at you to keep your hands quiet? Do your hands move up and down as you post? Do you tend to drop one hand lower than the other?

Unsteady hands are a major problem for many riders. In this short video, Wendy Murdoch, author of 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING offers two suggestions to quickly improve your hand position.

Be sure to visit Wendy’s newly updated website! She’s made it super-easy to find and learn from dozens of her educational articles, videos, and quick tips. Plus, don’t forget Wendy is going on horseback safari in Kenya in February! Check out more about the trip HERE.

50FIMIYou can order Wendy’s bestselling book and DVDs at the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING NOW

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TSB author Wendy Murdoch invites YOU to join her on horseback safari in February 2013!

TSB author Wendy Murdoch, creator of the RIDE LIKE A NATURAL DVD series and author of the hit book 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING has announced that in February 2013 she will be heading out on her fourth horseback safari on the Masai Mara, Kenya, and she invites YOU to go along!

From February 20th through the 28th, Wendy and friends will enjoy an unforgettable excursion with Safaris Unlimited, Kenya’s premier horseback safari outfit. Riding safe, experienced, well-cared for horses, they will travel across the Masai land through herds of giraffe, zebra, elephant, cape buffalo and more. Bird lovers will be thrilled by the diversity of species and colorful feathers, as well as learn how to photograph them with James, a Silver Medal photographic safari guide.

Check out Wendy’s website (CLICK HERE) to see photos from her previous horseback safari trips (in her gallery), and to contact her for more information about spending an incredible week on horseback in Africa!

Wendy’s bestselling DVDs and BOOK are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE COMPLETE WENDY MURDOCH: 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING PLUS 3 DVDS!

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TSB author Wendy Murdoch has filled her spring/early summer clinic schedule in what is shaping up to be another VERY busy year!

Wendy, author of the bestselling book 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING and the DVD series SIMPLIFY YOUR RIDING: RIDE LIKE A NATURAL, holds a Master’s Degree in Equine Reproductive Physiology from the University of Kentucky (1986). Her background includes intensive study with Linda Tellington-Jones, founder of the Tellington-Method; Sally Swift, Founder of Centered Riding; Dr. Joyce Harman, holistic veterinarian and noted authority on saddle fitting; Bettina Drummond, the only authorized representative of the Nuno Oliveira School in North America; Jon Zahourek, creator of Zoologik® Equiken® Anatomy in Clay, system for learning anatomy; and Dr. Hilary Clayton, recipient of the McPhail Chair at Michigan State University to study biomechanics in dressage horses. She is a certified Feldenkrais Practitioner.

Wendy’s latest book 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING zoomed to the top of the equine book bestsellers list with its superbly illustrated, easy, step-by-step instructions for bettering your position in the saddle and communicating more clearly with your horse. You can order your copy of Wendy’s book and DVDs at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE!

Don’t miss Wendy if she has a clinic near you!

Don't miss your opportunity to learn from Wendy Murdoch, author of 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING, at a 2012 clinic near you!

WENDY MURDOCH 2012 CLINIC SCHEDULE (SO FAR!)

Mar 2 – 4 Coming Out of Winter Dressage Clinic with Bruno Greber and Wendy Murdoch

Ashanti Farm, Gordonsville, VA

Heidi Ryder info@ashantifarm.com 540-832-0775

 

Mar 5 – 6 Private Lessons, Mounted Only

Morven Park Equestrian Center, Leesburg, VA

Shannon Pedlar sgp588@hotmail.com 703-431-5663

 

Mar 7, 14, 21 Private Feldenkrais Lessons

MStudio, Middleburg, VA

Shannon Pedlar sgp588@hotmail.com 703-431-5663

 

Mar 10 – 11 Open Clinic

Diamond TR Ranch, Perryville, AR,

Theresa Vogelpohl theresa@diamondtr.com 501-681-7767

 

Mar 27 – 29 Private Lessons, Mounted and Feldenkrais

Happily Ever After Farm, West Chester, PA

Sue Neilson susanneilson22@yahoo.com 484-356-8335

 

April 14 – 17 Open Clinic

Fly-A-Way Stables, Middleburg, VA

Pam Woolley pam@tteamva.com 703-622-4230

 

April 21 – 23 Clinic

Wellborn QH, FL

Andrea Haller andreainwellborn@yahoo.com 386-963-1555

 

April 28 – 29 Open Clinic

Spring Willow Farm, Mendon, MA

Lorna Palmer swhf@comcast.net 508-473-8630

 

May 5 – 8 Open Clinic

Colfax, IA

Brandie Gean morgunr@gmail.com 515-664-1620

 

May 18 – 20 Open Clinic

Joyful Noise Farm, Pryor, OK

Larry Lees L.Lees@sbcglobal.net 918-633-9288

 

May 25 – 28 Open Clinic

Northwest Trails, Deer Park, WA

Sally Shepard jvcougar1@msn.com -999-3796

 

June 2 – 4 Open Clinic

The Netherlands

Tessa Roos goodluck@xs4all.nl +31 6 10 92 33 19

 

June 5 – 6 Feldenkrais for Horses and Riders

The Netherlands

Tessa Roos goodluck@xs4all.nl +31 6 10 92 33 19

 

June 22 – 24 Retreat with Bettina Drummond and Wendy Murdoch

Windhorse International, Bethelehem, CT

Sharon Knies sknies@windhorseinternational.com 203-710-5809

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TSB author Wendy Murdoch was featured on the October 1 episode of The Horse Show with Rick Lamb.

In this info-intense day-and-age we’re all scrambling to find time—time for our kids, time for our partners, time for a quiet afternoon with a book (or your iPad!)…and in the case of riders, time to IMPROVE.

Whether you rely on the occasional lesson from a favorite trainer or clinician, or do most of your riding at home on your own, finding the time to really focus on areas of your riding that need improvement can be difficult and/or impossible—especially when you really just want to get on your horse and have fun (something that we don’t necessarily think goes hand-in-hand with working to improve our seat!) Wendy Murdoch’s newest book 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING is written with this conundrum in mind…how do we find enough time in the saddle to get better, and still leave enough time to just have fun? One of Wendy’s main goals in her teaching is to ensure riders have FUN (“safe, fun, and educational” is her mantra).

You can find out more about Wendy and her fabulous Murdoch Method by listening to the excellent interview with radio and television host Rick Lamb on a recent episode of THE HORSE SHOW (click HERE). Rick, a terrific interviewer, talks to Wendy about her recent riding safari in Africa, how she recovered from a debilitating accident and used what she learned about her body to ride better, and the work she’s done with other top TSB authors Linda Tellington-Jones and Sally Swift.

Don’t miss this great episode of THE HORSE SHOW WITH RICK LAMB. “Wendy is a really special individual,” Rick says. We here at TSB think so too!

You can buy Wendy’s 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING, as well as her RIDE LIKE A NATURAL DVDs, at the TSB bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

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All this month, almost two years since we lost our beloved first author Sally Swift, we are remembering her contribution to the world of riding horses, and teaching people to ride. In celebration of her life and work, Sally’s best-selling books–CENTERED RIDING and CENTERED RIDING 2–and DVDs CENTERED RIDING PART ONE and PART TWO are on sale at the TSB bookstore through the end of March.

We’ve shared stories from TSB staff members of their experiences with Sally and her books–now it is time to hear from a few of our other authors who had the opportunity to know Sally and work with her through the years. This week Wendy Murdoch–author of the best-selling 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING and the RIDE LIKE A NATURAL DVDs–looks back on meeting Sally Swift and discovering how Sally’s unique way of teaching riding could help improve her own position in the saddle, as well as how she taught others.

“I grew up in New England but had not heard of Sally Swift until I left.  In 1984, while attending graduate school in Lexington, Kentucky, a horse flipped over backward and rolled over me, breaking my left hip socket and pelvis.  A friend gave me a copy of the TTEAM newsletter (from the offices of Linda Tellington-Jones) while I was in the hospital. I was immediately interested in learning the TTEAM method. I attended my first TTEAM clinic in 1985 at Ellie Jensen’s  in Wisconsin, and all the people there were talking about Centered Riding.

“I met Sally in 1986 at another TTEAM clinic held by Kim Walnes on a cold, snowy February day. I was doing tail slides on a horse. A little, gray-haired older woman was watching. She commented on how the movement was going through the entire horse. That little, gray-haired woman was Sally Swift. Sally spent some time at the clinic, and I was fascinated by her teaching. Again I wanted to learn more.

“In August of that year I attended a Centered Riding Instructor’s course in Fort Collins, Colorado. This was the first time I rode for Sally. I was still struggling with my riding since the accident in 1984. During a mounted lesson Sally came over to me and put her hand on my injured leg. I can’t describe the feeling. Suddenly someone understood what I had been through and my struggle to ride again. Her touch was overwhelming. After another lesson (“Comparable Parts”), I had to go sit in the bleachers for the rest of the day. The feelings and changes were so powerful that I was completely washed out…and I was totally hooked on Sally.

“No journey is linear and neither was mine. Over the next six years our paths crossed at Sally’s clinics, through other people she had trained, and when I traveled  to teach TTEAM at Lucile Bump’s in Brattleboro, Vermont. Sally would come and watch me teach. I knew Sally took apprentices with her when she traveled, but I was struggling to make a living and wasn’t sure how I could apprentice for three months and pay my bills. Sally had back surgery and did not travel for about a year. During that time I expressed the desire to apprentice with her.

“As luck would have it Sally had an opening for the spring of 1992, and she accepted my application for apprenticeship. I jumped at the chance and then had to figure out the logistics. I did some creative financing and found clients that would pre-purchase lessons following the completion of my apprenticeship. In addition a few clients gave me outright donations. In March 1992 I drove up to Sally’s in Brattleboro and began working with her for what was to be her last full-time apprenticeship.

“My apprenticeship took me from Vermont to Massachusetts, Michigan, California, and Oregon. We spent a lot of time in Chicago O’Hare Airport. It was clear to me that this was Sally’s last big tour. Her brain was sharp but her body struggled with the rigors of traveling. Everywhere we went there was an outpouring of love for Sally. Many of her students realized this was her last trip and were anxious to be around her one last time to express that love and admiration. She had touched so many people’s lives, just as she had mine.

“Sally’s influence on riding cannot be measured. How many lives has she changed by her touch, her images, and her words? There is no way to know. I do know that she had a profound influence on my life. I thought I would ‘never teach riding’ and only wanted to work with the horses. But Sally’s way of teaching through joy, laughter,  and an understanding of the basics changed that.  I have added my own interests and education to my teaching, particularly anatomy and the Feldenkrais® Method, which incorporates and expands on Sally’s ideas. However, the kernels of universal truth that she put down so simply in her first book, Centered Riding, are ever-present.

“Sally has profoundly changed the way riding is taught around the world and for this I am truly grateful. Thank you Sally.”

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