To kick off the summer, I pulled out my well-worn copy of Sally Swift's Centered Riding. This is one of those books you can read over and over again and continue to gain valuable insight on your riding. I first read this book as a teenager when it was given to me by a great local dressage rider named Judy Whitehead. I worked for her after school cleaning stalls and was fortunate to have my first few lessons in this style of teaching on her amazing schoolmaster horses.
What I love about Sally Swift and the riding techniques described in this book is the use of imagery and visualization. While some may find them hokey, all I can say is don't knock it until you try it. This technique can be extremely powerful and lead to many "A-ha!" moments.
While re-reading this book, I found several concepts that I still teach to this day and I had forgotten where I originally heard them. I always talk about breathing, and breathing is one of Swift's "Four Basics." Bringing attention to your breath can help with so many things, from being able to sit the trot to quieting a hot horse. The baby bird idea I always talk about when teaching riders how to hold their reins? Yeah, it came from this book too...
My favorite chapter this go around was the chapter on circles and turns. Circles are the first pattern taught to riders when they get to come off the rail. A circle is a seemingly easy pattern, but don't be fooled. It is as difficult to ride a perfect circle as it is to draw one. This chapter explains the importance of the outside rein in a way I had never thought of before. If you've taken a lesson with me in the last month, I have probably told you about the "water hose" idea that I got from Swift's funnel idea. There are so many great ways to explain complicated concepts in this book!
One of the best things about this book is that it explains body position (aka equitation) in a way that makes you understand how your body effects your horse's body. Proper equitation has an end goal besides looking pretty. This book has immensely impoved my focus on body control. As I ride, I find myself quieting my mind of trivial matters and really improving the quality of my rides. As a bonus, I find that horses naturally develop self-carriage when I follow the methods described in this book.
While a lot of the information in this book sounds like it is directed towards the dressage rider, I promise you that it is helpful no matter what discipline you ride. There is a chapter on jumping at the end of the book, which builds upon the flatwork concepts (as it always should be).
As always, I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of this book. If you are a regular student of mine, feel free to borrow my own copy. I'll see you at the barn!