by Fran Jurga | 2 April 2009 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
The Zen Mistress of Equestrianism, Sally Swift received the Equine Industry Vision Award in 2008 at the age of 95. She traveled from her home in Vermont to the American Horse Publications convention in Saratoga Springs, New York. Sally may have been delighted to win that award...but we were all even more delighted to see her! (Daniel K. Lew/AHP Photo)
Let your eyes go soft tonight: Sally Swift died this afternoon.
Few details are available yet, but when they are, Equisearch.com will have them, so please check back soon and often.
Update April 3, 2009: Plans for a memorial service in honor of Swift are underway and will be announced at www.centeredriding.org. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to Centered Riding, Inc. P.O. Box 157, Perkiomenville, PA 28074; Windham County Humane Society, 916 W. River Road, Brattleboro, VT 05301; The Heifer International Foundation, 1015 Louisiana St., P.O. Box 727, Little Rock, AR 72203; or Amnesty International, 16th Floor, 5 Penn Plaza, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10001.
In the meantime, click here to read a great and recent article about Sally Swift and the concept of Centered Riding.
It is impossible to write about Sally Swift without including her theory of Centered Riding. Before any of us had bought our first yoga mat, Sally had us doing breathing exercises in the saddle. She taught about using "soft eyes" to see what is beyond your sharp-focus tunnel-vision view as you ride. And she had us aware of our spines, our horses' spines and the way that we could (and probably did) pass tension through the reins and through our seats and through our legs. She had us aware of where we were in space, using principles from yoga, martial arts and a host of way-ahead-of-the-rest-of-the-word resources that are now standard training tools for athletes in all sports.
If you could learn something from her great book Centered Riding, it was that the time you spent in the saddle was a microcosm of the rest of your life. The book became a cult literary classic, a sort of "Riding on the Right Side of Your Brain". And it still is.
Sally Swift suffered from scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine) from childhood and spent her life not so much overcoming her disability as learning how to utilize her mind to ride the way that would be most effective for herself and her horse.
I don't know if Sally Swift ever competed in equestrian sports, yet her name is up there with the likes of Bill Steinkraus and George Morris. Sally Swift's medals and ribbons were the confidence and the wonder that she brought out in people, helping them enjoy their horses more than they ever had.
For me, Sally Swift was the nice lady up the road. She was just a few hours away, just over the border in Vermont. I was always going to visit her on her farm. I would get to it next. It was on the list.
You know, you probably have a list of your own: that list of the 100 things in the horse world that you promise yourself you'll do, or that you dream of doing. Most of us never made it down that road in Vermont, but I can be pretty sure that a trip to Vermont to actually ride with Sally Swift was on that list for many, many people who will read this blog tonight.
Sally Swift rode into our lives like the zen equivalent of gangbusters and, in a single book, changed the way we thought about riding a horse. She taught us that if we would just stop beating ourselves up and start breathing, the rest would come naturally.
Last year, Sally wrote in her newsletter: "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. As I write this today, I realize that Centered Riding was my vision of what can be when we tear down the human armor and give a little of ourselves to one another and our four legged friends."
You'll always be riding with us, Sally Swift.