Balance in Movement
I am always fascinated and inspired to meet people passionate about their lives, especially when they are well into their ninth decade, and beginning new projects.
One such person is an icon in the equestrian world, Sally Swift, the founder and teacher of the centered riding movement. She is currently working on many new projects. Accumulating the knowledge to create her unique approach to riding came as a bi-product of dealing with her own anatomical demons. She was diagnosed with a spinal disorder, forcing her to learn how to contend with her weakness. Riding was encouraged as an exercise to help balance and strengthen her misaligned spine. She began teaching friends her techniques with great success. Her teachings began to spread by word of mouth, culminating today with several books, a video series and entire business devoted to her training ideas.
Recently I had the honor to meet Sally at a Dressage Judges Symposium. She is a gifted, energetic and delightful person, open to learning about everything in life. Sally is totally uninhibited in her efforts to make things seem as real and entertaining to others as they are to her. She uses incredible images to help people let go of their bodies and allow the movement of the horse to be felt. There are elephant wheels and there are mouse wheels, or ride as if you have stumps for legs, or think of an imaginary ball in your chest that drops down through your body and into your pelvis with a thunk as though into deep mud. This imagery actually does helps you find your center and feel the horse.
If you think about it, consider a horizontal horse, as a shock wave machine —- you put on top of him a vertical rider who must become a shock-absorbing machine. Sally’s lessons teach you to understand that the body can actually adapt to the concussion of the subtle movements to absorb and dissipate this shock.
A friend recently remarked, watching dressage is like watching paint dry. Watching someone improve in dressage is like watching oil paint vs. latex paint dry, the subtleties are minute.
Riding is a balance game of horse and rider. Two living beings seeking to find a common balance so that it appears to the observer as if they are as one. Even an uneducated eye will recognize a good rider when they see this harmony.
The problem is that as soon as the rider decides to work hard, they stiffen up and become a rigid robot. Breathing becomes shallow; tension seeps into all the limbs and the horse cannot perform correctly. Imagine a dance partner who is stiff and does not follow your rhythm or timing. It would be incredibly awkward.
Sally has managed to successfully explain to anyone how to ride in harmony with her powerful imagery. She is not only an inspiration for equestrians, but she is one of those rare people who lift you up when you are in her orbit. You are better for having spent time with her. That is an amazing gift.