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Centered Riding is a method of riding and riding instruction that is based on the idea of having the rider seated in the most effective position. It combines elements of martial arts, yoga, and T'ai chi ch'uan with knowledge of horsemanship to create a system where the rider is centered and balanced in the saddle. Originally developed by Sally Swift, since her death, Centered Riding has been trademarked by a non-profit educational organization that promotes awareness and teaches the principles of Centered Riding internationally. The widespread acceptance of the method marked a significant shift in horsemanship from rote, military-style instruction to a more psychological approach.
The basic components of the centered riding system are "soft eyes", breathing, balance or building blocks, and centering. Soft Eyes is a concept used in many sports in order to relax the athlete and expand their peripheral vision. Swift recommended that riders relax their visual acuity and direct more attention to the tactile interaction between horse and rider. This action alone tends to relax the rider and soften their cues. Breathing techniques are used in all sports. Breathing from your diaphragm relaxes the rider and makes them more athletically capable. For example some athletes add breathing exercises to their daily training routine. Balance or building blocks uses ideas from martial arts and tai chi in order to sit the rider deeper in the saddle which makes them more effective and able to move with their horse.
Centering is a process also done in T'ai chi ch'uan that helps the rider to find their center of balance. This allows the rider to remain centered no matter how the horse moves underneath them.
Centered riding was created by Sally Swift (21 April 1913 - 2 April 2009). At seven years old, Swift was diagnosed with scoliosis. which became part of her daily life and was later instrumental in her development of Centered Riding. After the diagnosis and well into her twenties, she worked with Mabel Todd, author of The Thinking Body and learned the techniques of "body awareness". Swift then studied the Alexander Technique and applied it to riding. Sally’s work with the Alexander Technique enabled her to discard the back brace she had worn for many years. The Technique added significantly to the depth and subtlety of her teaching. Swift learned to work with areas of the body rather than with specific muscles and used a balanced approach, teaching to both sides of the brain.
At age 62, after retiring from a career in agriculture including the American Holstein (cattle) Association, Swift focused full-time on riding instruction and the development of her Centered Riding Techniques. As she developed her techniques and taught people about the Four Basics of Centered Riding, she also published two books that serve as the foundation manuals for the technique, as well as a number of other articles and videotapes.
Today, Centered Riding also offers a certification program in order to teach people how to instruct how to teach the Centered Riding techniques. This offers people around the world a way of receiving Centered Riding instruction.
- "Centered Riding: Mind Body & Horse". Retrieved 2009-09-03.
- Miller, Stephen (2009-04-11). "Early Back Problems Led Horsewoman To Develop Popular 'Centered Riding'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-12-07.
- Negri, Gloria (2009-04-19). "Sally Swift, 95, horsewoman; developed centered method for riding horses". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-12-07.
- Steven D. Price, Gail Rentsch, Werner Rentsch (1998). The whole horse catalog. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-83995-0.
- Swift, Sally,Centered Riding,St. Martin's press Inc. Dec. 1985, ISBN 978-0-312-12734-3
- “Vansalva’s Maneuver, Breathing Exercise.” Optimal Breathing, 2 Dec. 2008