Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is Senior Editor at Horse&Rider Magazine and co-author of TSB’s Reining Essentials with Cowgirl Hall of Fame Inductee Sandy Collier. She wrote key articles about CENTERED RIDING and Sally Swift’s teaching in 1998 and 2000, and here shares her “Lightbulb Moment” in honor of TSB’s 30-year celebration:
“Oops!” My face reddened as I toppled gently forward, landing awkwardly on my horse’s neck. The mare was at a standstill, fortunately, and I was only following directions to grip with my knees while bending at the waist and attempting to touch my horse’s ears with both hands. As a lifelong rider, I knew I wasn’t supposed to grip with my knees, but until attending this Sally Swift clinic in May of 1998, I’d never understood why not.
A moment earlier, under Swift’s direction, I’d been able to grasp those ears easily while inclining securely forward. “Keep your knees relaxed, keep your lower legs under you, and your calves resting on your horse’s sides,” Sally had said, and it worked.
She reinforced this “grounding” in the saddle throughout the two days of lectures, demonstrations, and mounted and unmounted work. I had traveled from California to Brattleboro, Vermont, to attend the clinic as a journalist and participant. My article, “Getting Centered,” appeared in the December 1998 issue of Horse&Rider. I followed that with a profile of her, “Sally Swift Shows Us The Way,” in 2000.
Sally was 85 at the time of the clinic. Frail and stooped, she moved slowly, leaning heavily on two canes. The instant she opened her mouth, however, she morphed from little old lady to general-in-command—her voice and demeanor were that compelling.
One of many important things she taught us at the clinic was how to find our true center of balance, energy, and body control, deep within our abdomens. The concept is central not only to riding but also to martial arts (such as t’ai chi ch’uan), performing arts (ballet), and other sports (skiing and tennis). The ultimate lifelong learner, Sally had discovered these and other key insights—which were to revolutionize riding instruction—during what ordinary folk would call retirement.
By the clinic’s end, I couldn’t wait to get home and try Sally’s methods on my own gelding. And, just as she’d promised, her techniques meshed seamlessly with my own riding instructor’s approach. They simply gave me insights for getting tab A into slot B. I’d heard the whats of riding all my life. Now, finally, I had a line on how.
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