Two Easy Exercises to Make the Rider’s Hands More Sensitive and Effective


“That rider has good hands.”

The comment might mean little to those outside the equestrian realm, but within it, we understand it as a compliment. And one of the highest order.

As young riders, we try our darnedest for a somewhat light connection with the school horses and tough little ponies we likely learn on. We know we should be able to turn and stop with almost invisible aids…we’ve been told, and we’ve seen great performances by liberty trainers and dressage riders and accomplished horsemen with that magic touch on a horse. I even vaguely remember reading a story about a fairy with a tiny, mystical mount, and reins of a spider’s thread…and this is what I aspired to, over the years, despite a number of equine partners with less-than-enthusiastic responses.

Certainly, it would seem some people are born with feel and good hands. They get on a horse the first time and just know, innately, how to communicate with the animal beneath them. But the rest of us needn’t feel dismay, as we can improve the sensitive and effective use of our hands. The late great Sally Swift gives us two fun and easy exercises to help in CENTERED RIDING 2, her phenomenal followup to the international bestseller CENTERED RIDING. Here’s my take on both of them:


Booze Cruise (My Name for This Exercise, Not Sally’s)

With your fingers around the stems, walk around with two full (right to the top!) wine glasses. Notice how much easier it is not to spill the wine when you are grounded, centered, and soft with your fingers, than when you tighten and hold the glass stems with tense hands. Practice finding a more grounded, centered self that filters out to soft hands. Note: I recommend doing this in a room with tile floor or outside, where spillage isn’t a concern. Bonus: Go ahead and have a drink when you’re done. (And repeat the exercise as often as needed!)



Ball in the Bowl

Take a large mixing bowl and place any small ball (a tennis ball, for example) in it. Walk around holding the bowl loosely with your arms relaxed, your thumbs just under the outside of the rim, and two or three fingers underneath. Experiment with what you need to do to keep the ball “quiet” in the bowl (ie, not rolling around) as you walk. You will quickly discover that you must not try too hard, hold your breath, or keep a tight hold on the bowl with your hands. If you try to keep the bowl still by tightening your hands, the ball will roll around rapidly. Instead, balance your pelvis by softening your hip joints and dropping your sacrum. Ground yourself, use soft eyes, breathe easily, center yourself, and lengthen your spine up and down. You will discover that your hands become very sensitive in the way they carry the bowl, and the ball will be surprisingly quiet inside it. This is the quality of hands that you want when communicating with your horse through the reins. (Photo from CENTERED RIDING 2.)



CenteredRiding2PB-300For more enlightening exercises for better all-around riding, read Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 


Centered Riding: “‘Feel’ is more achievable and teachable than one may believe.”


To help TSB celebrate the 30th Anniversary of our first horse book CENTERED RIDING, this month some of our top authors will share their Sally Swift memories and “aha” moments. Here, TSB author Linda Benedik (YOGA FOR EQUESTRIANS; YOGA & RIDING DVDS; LONGEING THE RIDER FOR THE PERFECT SEAT) tells us why CENTERED RIDING was so important to her riding, teaching, and writing:

“Baby birds in the hand. Barbershop pole as rotating spine. Energy directed as water through soft garden hose arms. Dropping a heavy, anchoring chain from the center. Legs so long that riding boots reach the ground. The iconic spruce tree and the growth it inspires.

“Creative images like these from Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING are indelibly committed to my memory, as well as the collective conscious of a new generation of riders and teachers. Easy to perceive and precisely descriptive, these visuals give shape to the mounted movements and feelings that riders experience. The concepts and images introduced in CENTERED RIDING illuminate the process of becoming a rider. They also provide effective tools for guiding both students and teachers in mutually positive directions, and demonstrate that ‘feel’ is more achievable and teachable than one may believe. In my (soft) eyes, Sally Swift has been an influential and groundbreaking equestrian educator. By integrating her own personal experiences in bodywork and practices from outside of the riding arena into her methods, she led by example and showed the horse world that, as riders and instructors, we are all bodyworkers.

CENTERED RIDING posed introspective questions, prompting equestrians to develop the mind-body awareness essential to riding. It also provided a direction for that awareness by offering a pathway that led to a powerful grasp of the physical language of equitation. With this deeper self-knowledge, riders could more compassionately communicate with horses. Building foundation skills in any language is necessary before conversing, and through the CENTERED RIDING system, which is clear-cut, well-illustrated, imaginative, and inspiring, Sally gave riders a tangible way to become fluent in this language. Achieving fluency in personal bodywork enabled riders to then more effectively work the body of the horse, prompting horses the world over to join together in communal rejoicing!

“As a career-based teacher of rider body language, CENTERED RIDING taught me that creating an environment conducive to eliciting feel in a rider is accomplishable.  As I reflect back on my long-lasting relationship with this book—an enduring work that continues to benefit horses and riders—I am reminded of how strongly Sally’s principles and images impacted my personal experiences, inspired me as a rider, trainer, and author, and paved the way for my own contributions to the universal equestrian library. To this day, CENTERED RIDING resonates and supports my perception that the rider’s body is a symphony of parts, and not only must a rider master each part—each instrument—but they must also conduct the symphony. While this may sound like a monumental task, CENTERED RIDING offers manageable steps toward developing this dexterity and provides coherent tools for connecting and conversing with horses.

“My gratitude to Sally for these teaching essentials is immeasurable, and I am honored to have the opportunity to express my appreciation during this 30th year anniversary celebration.”


Share your own CENTERED RIDING  memories and “aha” moments online and tag them #CenteredRiding30! And remember, all CENTERED RIDING books and DVDs are 30% off, the entire month of November.


Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

30 Years of Centered Riding and Publishing “for the Good of the Horse”

TSB 30th Anniversary2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of CENTERED RIDING, the now classic text by Sally Swift. CENTERED RIDING, the book, has sold over half-a-million copies worldwide and has been published in 16 languages. For many horse people—across riding disciplines and state lines and national borders—it changed the way practical riding instruction could be 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—we are a small business housed on a working cattle and horse farm, tucked well away from main thoroughfares in the idyllic hills of rural Vermont. In the years following CENTERED RIDING’s release, TSB has focused on the acquisition and publication of books and DVDs on horses, horse care, and riding with one mission—for the good of the horse—in mind.

Since CENTERED RIDING, many TSB books have become bestsellers across riding disciplines, including:

GETTING IN TTOUCH (1995), which helped launch the phenomenal career of renowned animal behaviorist and horse trainer Linda Tellington-Jones.

THAT WINNING FEELING! (1997) by Jane Savoie, which was one of the first sport psychology books specifically for riders.

YOGA FOR EQUESTRIANS (2000) by Linda Benedik and Veronica Wirth, which introduced the idea of cross-training the rider for better riding performance.

BOMBPROOF YOUR HORSE (2004), a book that enabled mounted police officer Sgt. Rick Pelicano to show everyday riders how to make their horses safe in any situation.

CLINTON ANDERSON’S DOWNUNDER HORSEMANSHIP (2004), which introduced the Australian horseman’s method to readers at the dawn of his meteoric success.

TUG OF WAR: CLASSICAL VERSUS “MODERN” DRESSAGE (2007) by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, which made public the controversial “Rollkur” practices that had dressage circles in turmoil all over the globe.


Click image to see a short video featuring some of our bestselling books and DVDs.

Click image to see a short video featuring some of our bestselling books and DVDs.


TSB now also distributes hundreds of educational DVDs for equestrians and is the exclusive North American distributor for PferdiaTV of Germany. TSB worked side-by-side with Cedar Creek Productions and Director Cindy Meehl to produce the international smash 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN (2012)—a seven-disc DVD set of instructional footage obtained during the making of the award-winning documentary film BUCK.

Since the publication of CENTERED RIDING by Sally Swift 30 years ago, TSB has published and/or distributed over 600 books and DVDs, regularly releasing 12 to 15 new equine titles each year.

Help us celebrate 30 years of CENTERED RIDING and publishing “for the good of the horse”! Take 30% off all CENTERED RIDING books and DVDs during the entire month of November, and tag your favorite CENTERED RIDING tip or personal CENTERED RIDING “aha” moment #CenteredRiding30.





The Horse’s Center of Gravity vs. His Center of Energy and Control: An Exercise


The horse’s center of gravity is indicated by the clear circle. His center of energy and control is shown by the black circle.

As we ride, we hear a lot about getting our horses “off their forehands” or “off their shoulders”—and most of us engage in any number of schooling figures and half-halts with just this goal in mind. But without an inner sense of what it is we are doing for our horses when we shift the balance, playing with that center of gravity and center of energy and control, it’s all just circles and walk-halt-walk transitions. Here’s a quick and easy exercise from Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, to really hit the message home.

The horse’s center of gravity is the balance point of his body, and it is located in the girth area. His center of control and energy, however, is below his spine at the back of his loin, just below the lumbosacral joint. Similarly, our center of control and energy is in our lower back, just in front of our lumbosacral joint. Because we stand vertically, in contrast to the horizontal horse, our center of gravity is not near our shoulder blades but rather is in the same area as our center of control and energy. As a result, when we put our center of gravity over our feet for balance, we also find our center of control and energy in the same spot.

The location of the center of gravity in both rider and horse changes at times. When you are startled or frightened your center of gravity rises above its desired depth, as it does in times of tension, or apprehension. In either case it makes you less grounded. The center of gravity of a startled or actively engaged horse moves slightly back as he tips his pelvis down to bring his hind feet more nearly under his center of gravity.

You can get a sense of center of gravity vs. center of energy and control from the horse’s viewpoint with this short exercise:

1  Get down on your hands and knees. Find a balance with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hip joints.

2  Gently engage your center, and allowing your hip joints to slightly close and open, rock back a tiny bit and then back again to balance. Notice how this pelvic rocking motion tends to fill your lower back across the loin. This puts you in a position for balanced, fluid, forward motion.

3  Notice that your shoulders are also part of the rocking motion and since they are not carrying a lot of weight, they are free for forward movement. Shift your balance forward, putting your weight on your shoulders and hands, and you will no longer be able to move forward; your hands will seem to be stuck to the ground. This is how your horse feels when he is too much on his forehand.




For more riding insight from the legendary Sally Swift, check out CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.


Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Explore Centering, Breathing, Soft Eyes, and Building Blocks in an Excerpt from Sally Swift’s Second Book CENTERED RIDING 2

Click the image above to read the excerpt from CENTERED RIDING 2 on EQUUS Magazine's new website!

Click the image above to read the excerpt from CENTERED RIDING 2 on EQUUS Magazine’s new website!


Sally Swift’s first book, CENTERED RIDING, came on the scene in 1985. Now translated into 15 languages, it is one of the bestselling horse books of all time and continues to be just as valid as when it first came out, containing all the fundamentals of Sally’s teaching.

Sally’s second book CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION doesn’t replace the first one—it complements it. Over the years, Centered Riding continued to evolve, and Sally inevitably developed many new concepts and fresh imagery. CENTERED RIDING 2 delves into these additional riding techniques and also concentrates more on the horse than the first book. Sally explains in great detail how through the use of Centered Riding you can improve your horse’s musculature and way of going—and consequently, his comfort and performance.

Visit EQUUS Magazine’s online excerpt from CENTERED RIDING 2 by CLICKING HERE.




CENTERED RIDING 2 is coming out in a new paperback edition! You can preorder your copy at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. All preorders will ship as soon as the books are in the TSB warehouse in mid-April!