Centered Riding's Sally Swift dies aged 95

April 4, 2009

Sally Swift

Centered Riding guru Sally Swift has died just days short of her 96th birthday. She was known the world over for her innovative horse-riding methodology known as "Centered Riding".

Swift was the founder of Centered Riding, Inc, a non-profit organisation that oversees the worldwide membership of instructors and horse riders.

She was the author of two books Centered Riding and Centered Riding II - Further Explorations. Together, they have had sales of more than 860,000 worldwide in 15 different languages.

She began Centered Riding at the age of 62 upon her retirement from the Holstein Association in Brattleboro, Vermont. Her first book, Centered Riding was published in 1985.

In August of 2006, Sally Swift was inducted into the United States Dressage Federation's Hall of Fame. In June of 2008, she was presented with the seventh annual Equine Industry Vision Award by Pfizer Animal Health and American Horse Publications, an award which recognises innovation, ingenuity and service across the entire equine market. She said at the time: "I am blessed with the feeling that my life and dreams have come full circle," said Swift. "Centered Riding is not about lofty ideals or selling books. For me, Centered represents all that is good in today's world, and the people I have come to know through this 'centered' journey have become my friends and family. I realize today that Centered Riding was my vision of what can be when we tear down the human armour and give a little of ourselves to one another and our four-legged friends."

Swift was born on April 20, 1913, in Hingham, Massachusetts, to Rodman Swift and Elizabeth Townsend Swift. She was named after her grandmother, Sarah Rodman Swift. However, because she had a cousin also named Sarah, her nickname became Sally.

Horses were introduced to Swift's life at a very early age. From the time she was two or three she would sit on the back of the garbage man's horse. Then, once she became a little older, her mother - also an avid horse enthusiast - rented a horse for a month in the summer. Every summer they would rent the same horse, Helen Kingbolt. The Swifts kept the horse up on a hill at their neighbor's barn where they rented a standing stall. Down the road there was a side road with no traffic, called Martin's Lane, where they would take Helen to ride.

At age 7, Swift was diagnosed with scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine. From that time and through her early 20s she worked with a therapist named Mabel Ellsworth Todd, author of The Thinking Body, who believed that you could control parts of your body with your mind when you couldn't direct them with physical movement. Swiftused concepts of her work with Mabel Todd to develop the four basics of Centered Riding.

Swift was home-schooled until 7th grade and then attended Milton Academy in Milton Massachusetts for her 7th through 12th grade education. She graduated from Cornell University in 1947 with an agricultural science degree. She worked for 21 years at the Holstein Association of America located in Brattleboro, Vermont, retiring in 1975. It was through her work with Todd that Swift began an understanding of body awareness and imagery that became the Centered Riding method and her life ambition.

After graduating from Milton Academy, Swift taught traditional riding for 12 years before changing careers. It wasn't until she retired from the American Holstein Association, at age 62, that teaching and riding came back into play. She planned to teach a few close friends. However, as she developed her Centered Riding techniques, the demand for Centered Riding clinics and instructor clinics blossomed. Before long, she was traveling all over the world teaching many people. Now those teachers are educating new teachers across the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe.

In 1985, Swift's groundbreaking book Centered Riding was released. Since then the book has been translated into 14 different languages. In addition, two Centered Riding videos were released in 1986 and are still in the top five of Trafalgar Square Books' best selling program. A second book, Centered Riding 2: Further Exploration, was published in 2002 and has been published in nine foreign countries. Together, the two books have sold over three-quarters of a million copies.

In her early 70s, Swift began travelling around the world. In 1988 she went to Australia, at the age of 75, to work alongside Richard Weis, who was her first apprentice.

Swift also worked with the Alexander Technique, which enabled her to discard the back brace she had worn for many years while riding or performing other activities. The Alexander Technique is a method of re-educating the mind and body towards greater balance and integration with special reference to posture and movement. This technique didn't change any of her four basic principles but rather added significantly to the depth and subtlety of her teaching.

In addition to her teaching, Swift founded Centered Riding, Inc, an organization with members from around the world and a certification program for instructors of the Centered Riding&mreg; method. The instructor program, also founded by Swift, is now taught by Level IV instructors who either apprenticed directly with Sally (1986-1991) or with at least two level IV instructors.

Swift continued to be very active in Centered Riding until her recent illness.

During the days of her illness, Swift was surrounded by her friends and Centered Riding family who loved her. She was closely attended to by her long-time friend, Lucile Bump, also of Brattleboro, her devoted friend, Munson Hicks, her caregivers, and her special friend Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.

She was well-loved by many, many people. Despite her fame, breadth of knowledge and accomplishments, she greeted all who journeyed down her path with warmth and humbleness.

The world was made a better place by Sally Swift, and the horse world and all who came to love her deeply mourn her passing.