Centered Riding founder Sally Swift passed away on April 2. I was lucky enough to have worked quite extensively with Sally back in the early 80's, when I was farm manager at Signa Read's 3 Meadows Farm in Peru, VT.
Sally was a wonderful woman and an amazing instructor. She was my very first dressage instructor (I'd ridden western until I started working with her), and took me from the heels-down ramrod posture so popular back then to a much more fluid style of riding.
My most memorable lesson with Sally occurred when I was riding a retired fox hunter named Randolph. Randolph was a marvelous horse in the field - he took care of his rider, was very clever over fences, and never put a foot wrong. In the arena, however, he was another story: he had no notion of how to use himself correctly and spent most of his time going around like a turbo-charged giraffe. Bending corners was not in his lexicon - he usually opted to bank them, preferably at a hand gallop. And being a beginner at dressage, I had no notion of how to correct this.
After a very tough and frustrating half-hour, I was about ready to quit horses entirely. No matter what I did, I couldn't get Randolph to do anything I asked. He and I were both dripping sweat, and I was so tired I was literally shaking. Sally sensed that we were both coming undone, so she told me to take a break. I dropped my irons, threw my reins out to the buckle, and let Randolph walk along the rail while I contemplated careers that didn't involve riding horses.
Suddenly Sally (who had an amazing voice for an elderly little woman) hooted, "THERE!! THERE, Kitt - that's EXACTLY how I want you to ride!"
I wasn't sure I'd heard correctly. "But, Sally, this is how I rode when I was a kid."
"YES!" she answered. "That's how you SHOULD ride! You're relaxed and moving with the horse rather than fighting him! You're not worrying about forcing your heels down or keeping your back straight - you're riding the way you should!"
Needless to say, the second half of the lesson - and all my subsequent lessons with Sally - opened a whole new dimension of riding. I carried those lessons with me, and used them in good stead when I was teaching dressage in Los Angeles at Linda Mason Training Stable, and again when I moved back home and continued teaching.
And I still use Sally's lessons to this day - not only in my riding, but in my martial arts, as well. Sensei is always talking about blending with the opponent, learning to yield and flow like water. One of these days, maybe it will be as easy for me in the dojo as it is in the saddle.
So thank you, Sally. You taught me some outstanding life lessons. Good journey to you.