Tag Archives: Sally Swift

Enlightened Horsemanship’s Favorite Posts of 2009

If you blog, what was your favorite post from last year? I’d love it if you posted it here in the comments, so we can all go and read it.
If you have a favorite from EHTT in the past year, let me now what it was.

January 2009

Mindful Monday: On Mistakes

February 2009

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor: The Missing Disclaimer
Verse Thursday + Completely Un-Horse-Related Ramblings of a Buddhist Nature

March 2009

How and Why Did Popular Natural Horsemanship Get So Far From Its Roots?
Handler Independence and Calm, Secure Learning in T.T.E.A.M.
Ray Hunt, Rest In Peace
Just Hold Your Horses!

April 2009

Horses, Shamans and Autism in Mongolia
The Mindlessness of Equestrian Vanity
Sally Swift, Godmother of Mindful Horsemanship, Dies At Age 95

May 2009

Another Bridleless Riding and Communication Tool: The Tellington TTouch Balance Rein
Ever Thought Something Was Too Good To Be True?
Guest Blog Contest Winner: Lost Trail Ranch’s High Mountain Muse
You Asked For It, You Got It: The Liberty Neck Ring

June 2009

The Nose Knows
Toward An Equine Bill of Rights
Embracing Groundlessness

July, 2009

Petition to Allow Bitless Bridles in USEF Rated Competitions
The Dominance Model and Horsemanship by Equine Ethology Are Dead
I Need Your Help and I Need It Fast! (Mongol Derby Animal Welfare Violations)
Affirmations of Awareness for Horsepeople: On Perception
Another Post About Demanding Your Horse’s Attention
Do You Demand Your Horse’s Complete Attention?
The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare A Solid Foundation For An Equine Bill of Rights

August 2009

What can I say? Some months, you just don’t hit your stride. I should have gone on vacation. Go back to July. It was a good month. Or check out September.

September 2009

Styles in the Horse World: Trailer Loading
Parelli Parade of Preposterousness
Science Friday: Heart Rate & Heart Rate Variability And Emotionality in Horses
Verse Thursday: Puerhan on Hurt
Unprecedented BLM Mustang Roundup Hearing Tomorrow: Please Make Your Voice Heard

October, 2009

Eye Contact: Necessary for Catching Your Horse?
Reader Dilemma: Catching A Horse In The Field
Backing Up; The Holy Grail of Horsemanshp?
Parelli Natural Horsemanship Cake Recipe

November 2009

Mindful Monday: Don’t Just Do Something–Sit There!
Interpretations of “Pressure”
Routine Tasks With No Inherent Meaning Diminish the Spirit of the Horse
From Gallop to Freedom: Do we REALLY Know What We Do?
Horses In Transition: A Call To Action

December 2009

We Are All Made of Stars
Sage By Nature: Horses Drawing Out Our Goddess Force
I Ride/A Simple Statement
Dressage Derailed at Horses for Life
Another Brick In the Wall: Trainers Eschewing Rope Halters

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Mindful Monday: Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.

You’ve probably heard someone say this, or maybe even said it yourself. But it was Sylvia Boorstein whose turn of phrase reintroduced us to the idea that just being, instead of doing, might help provide solutions to some of the problems we create for ourselves today: the frenetic striving for perfection, the avoidance of uncomfortable truths, etc. The gift of this concept came as the title of one of Boorsteins books, a kind of guide to creating your own meditation retreat.

As a representation of one of the main concepts of Buddhism, Boorstein’s exhortation is truth-in-a-nutshell.

Since humans generally do not see things in the most uncomplicated way possible, we often exhaust ourselves making up our own version of reality on a platform of our individual histories, fears, memories etc. We frighten or discourage ourselves before we even get going. It is believed that animals do not burden themselves with such destructively creative forms of perception.

Mindfulness is seeing things as they actually are, not as we imagine them to be….Pleasant and unpleasant experiences, the Buddha explained, the joys and pains of everyday life, are not the problem. The yearning and despising—the imperative in the mind that things be different—the extra tension in the mind that disappears when things are seen clearly and understood fully, is what the Buddha called suffering. Mindfulness—the relaxed, non-clinging, non-aversive awareness of present experience—is a skill that, like any other skill, requires developing.

Years ago, Boorstein developed a kind of do-it-yourself mindfulness retreat for people who weren’t yet ready or able to take the plunge and visit a mindfulness center. I love this idea of setting aside time to care for our selves in a kind of constructive restfulness. Not only for the mind, but also for the body as we ride.

As we ride???? Yes!

Sally Swift employed ideokinesis (the use of imagery to effect changes in the body) very creatively in Centered Riding®. Riders can use the tool of ideokinesis to imagine an active resting state in the saddle.

Active resting? Yes again!

Try this first at home. For five or ten minutes, lie down on your back on the floor. Don’t drift off into the mind-numbing daydreams you might be tempted to allow. Put your arms by your side, palms up or down, whichever is comfortable. If you need a towel under your knees or a pillow under your neck for comfort, get one. Imagine gravity as the active entity it is. Watch it work on your body as it helps your muscles release tension. During the process of release, notice any areas of tension that have become patterns in your body. You will recognize those spots where gravity has to work harder. Send messages of gratitude to those areas, for they will be your teachers. Also, send gratitude to gravity for assisting you in releasing them. You may find that you have to be very clear in giving suggestions to your body to assist gravity in its task: “allow my neck to be free of tension,” or “I’m noticing the rise and fall of my breath, but this makes me breathe faster.” The most important thing about active resting is doing nothing. Don’t just do something, lie there. Do not cling to any idea of what you must accomplish during the exercise, even if it is relaxation. You might find that this is even more refreshing than a short nap.

With practice, you will begin to develop more awareness of your body and its relation to the earth. “Well what do you know? It’s not my body’s job to resist gravity! I can allow my body to move within the earth’s gravitational field without undue stress on my muscles! All I have to do is allow it!”

Remember that the path of least resistance is always available to you, because it will be important when you try this exercise in the saddle.

Now that you have set up the conditions for awareness of your body in space and maintaining a space of least resistance, you can try this active rest in the saddle. Your horse will be thrilled. At first you may worry about this idea of some kind of floppy-muscled Zen session in the saddle: is it safe? Think about the last time you stopped getting in your horse’s way, and your muscles stopped competing with his to get the job done. There was a much better flow, wasn’t there? That’s what this exercise is all about. You can set up an active resting retreat in the saddle anytime you want.

Make sure you are in an enclosed area, such as a fenced arena or round pen, just in case anything goes wrong, or your horse is really fresh or extra delighted to be liberated from the constraints of your muscular control.
Swing yourself into the saddle, make sure to give your horse a good rub on the neck, and explain to him what you are doing. This is important.
Keep your eyes open (you’d be nuts to close them!!!). Be aware of your surroundings but try not to focus on any one thing. Hear the sounds around you but don’t listen. Alertness without that laser-like focus of the straight-line, left-brain thinker is the goal. You can do it. It’s only a few minutes’ worth.
Remove your feet from the stirrups, let go your vice grip on the reins, and practice the same non-doing that you tried at home. If you are willing to let go of any desired outcome, you will feel gravity work to join you and your horse together as one being.
Being physically together without an agenda, allowing the stress of your muscles’ resistance to gravity (and to the horse) to melt away. Remember those resistant muscles in the active resting exercise at home on the floor? Recognize them now, give them the extra attention they deserve, and your will feel your horse do the same.
Notice what you feel beneath you. Has the horse’s back come up beneath the saddle to meet you? Perhaps it has shrunk away? Does his breathing match your own or is it slower?
In time, each of you will learn to allow your bodies to stop resisting one another. Your mutual awareness can flourish and grow in this space.

Active resting can be expanded to include riding, as in the practice of walking meditation. But that’s a post for another day.

The active resting retreat is a useful tool because the rider is setting up conditions where insights are likely to arise. In this intimate encounter with your horse, you rely on perception rather than action, receiving rather than sending. It’s like becoming a child all over again. Bringing a “beginner’s mind” to being with your horse can awaken us to a fuller, wiser understanding of what riding him really is.

© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

NB Thanks to Debra Crampton who wrote Nothing Doing in this month’s Centered Riding eBulletin for giving me the impetus to finish this this post (started many months ago) as well as the term, ideokinesis, which I add to my working vocabulary with delight. It’s interesting to note that the “Construcive Rest,” “Active Rest,” and other techniques for generating attentive stillness do not trace back simply to the Alexander Technique or to any school of Ideokinesis, but to Buddhist meditation techniques as described by the historical Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.

I learned of Sylvia Boorstein’s DIY Meditation Retreat concept in a recorded interview at Shamhala Sunspace.

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Sally Swift, Godmother of Mindful Horsemanship, Dies At Age 95

Sally Swift, Godmother of Mindful Horsemanship, Dies At Age 95

Mt friend Sandy Rakowitz and I were discussing Sally Swift yesterday at One Heart Healing Center. Neither of us knew that at that moment, Sally Swift was probably leaving us.

Implicit in much of what I write is the basic instruction of Sally Swift. Perhaps I should have made it more explicit.


From the Centered Riding website:

Sarah Rodman Swift known to her worldwide following as “Sally Swift” passed away on April 2, 2009. Sally was less than three weeks away from reaching her 96th birthday. She was born on April 20, 1913 in Hingham, Massachusetts to Rodman “Tod” Swift and Elizabeth Townsend Swift. She had one sister, Agnes, who died in 2004.

Sally Swift was known all over the world for her innovative horse-riding methodology known as “Centered Riding.” She was the author of two books Centered Riding and Centered Riding II – Further Explorations which, together, have had sales of more than 860,000 copies worldwide in fifteen different languages. Sally was the Founder of Centered Riding, Inc., which is the non-profit organization that oversees the worldwide membership of instructors and horse riders. Sally 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.



Sally Swift’s thoughts on riding technique emphasize balance and harmony in much the same way as the martial arts. The disciplines share the concepts of correct breathing, control from the center of the body, and the need for awareness and the quietness of the balanced body.” In the forward to her book, Centered Riding, Sally Swift explains her methods as, the combination of how your body works, the ability to allow it to function unhampered, and the awareness and use of energies created through you and your horse. In contrast, traditionally, athletes are urged to push, try harder, work harder, go for the burn. Unfortunately, when they approach horseback riding in this manner, the muscle tension that accompanies their efforts transfers directly to the horse, which the rider must then try harder to control, and the vicious circle ensues.¹

Swift’s use of creative imagery clarified numerous technical issues of horseback riding in a way that riders understand more clearly than all their trainers’ descriptions. Enabling her students to envision the action of their bodies on horseback liberated many from the confines of exclusively technical training to allow for a more natural connection between horse and rider.

Susan Harris, the renowned clinician and author of the classic, Grooming to Win, wasn’t sure what to think when she first learned of Sally Swift’s “centered riding” approach, a sort of Zen and the art of horseback riding. It explained how to do “all those wonderful classical things riding teachers are always talking about. For once, it was a way to discuss–and to teach–the elusive concept of feel.”

Though Swift had slowed down in her later years, her contributions to horseback riding and horsemanship continued. Certified Centered Horsemanship Instructors will no doubt carry on the tradition of “soft eyes” in riding and in life. This concept alone bridges the gap between Buddhist mindfulness and Centered Riding. (Sadly, At the time of this writing, I was researching and writing a post on this topic. I wish that I’d been further along on this.) I for one will miss the existence of Sally Swift. Her absence will leave a void in the wold.

¹ adapted from Who Is Sally Swift? by Patricia Celley

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Thankful Thursday: My Teachers

Thankful Thursday: My Teachers

I read Akal Ranch‘s last Thankful Thursday post with great interest. Simrat’s Standing On the Shoulders of Giants, thanking all the trainers she has learned from.

At first I thought it was not the best idea to copy another blogger’s idea directly, but then I knew Simrat would not object to being my teacher. We should all thank our teachers, whether they taught us good things or bad.

There is a Buddhist principle which states the same thing. In the Mahayana Dharma, there is a simple saying, “Be grateful to everyone.” As Pema Chödron says in her book, Start Where You Are, being grateful to everyone “is a way of saying that we can learn from any situation, especially if we practice … with awareness.”

“Be grateful to everyone” means that all situations teach you, and often, it’s the tough ones that teach you best … You’re continually meeting your match. You’re always coming into a challenge, coming up against your edge.

As we all know, horses are excellent teachers. They don’t know. But they can show you “where you need to be more gentle, where you need ot be more clear, when you need to be more quiet, and when you need to speak.”

Same holds true for mentors, trainers, riding instructors. You can’t really trust anyone else’s interpretations of the truth because you yourself have the wisdom within. Some of us only learn this after looking back long and hard at our teachers, both equine and human.

My first trainer and my first horse were a particularly difficult combination, one which I’ve written about before, though not in detail. I feel guilt about the way I treated that horse under the guidance of that teacher, yet I probably shouldn’t. I have learned a lot from her. I learned what it takes to be a successful horseperson. I learned toughness and resolve. I learned that being intimidated by horses is not an option. I learned a great number of basic skills, and I learned patience, though of a different kind than I practice today. Each time I get in the saddle, I remember what she taught me, “You have to show the horse what you want“, and I learned how to be quiet. She taught me those things. Looking back, I also learned many things I do not want to be part of my horsemanship toolbox: traditional natural horsemanship skills that thinly veil dominance and force. It is now easy for me to find ways to avoid that and come to a greater understanding with horses. I don’t know, however, if I could reach this place with such great understanding if I hadn’t been to hers first. It all makes better sense now.

Katie Little introduced me to Sally Swift and Tellington TTouch.

My second trainer taught me a whole new seat. She took away my saddle for three months and I really learned to sit on a horse. She taught me to jump. Bareback. The thrill of learning something that previously struck terror into my heart gave me such a sense of accomplishment. She is a Parelli-trained teacher, and her easy approach to training horses was fascinating. I also learned from her how not to deal with people on a strictly human basis. I have often wondered what it is about horsepeople that make them so difficult in real life. I think it has to do with passion. If you have great passion and desire, you make mistakes in dealing with people if you are not mindful of possible outcomes. This in itself was a lesson worth remembering.

My third trainer taught me patience and stillness. She is a wizard in the strictest sense. Her blend of traditional English horsemanship and calm, still mindfulness allows her to achieve amazing results. I’ve seen her take a greenie out into the hunt field and show him a great day, have a nice time herself, and come home without a scratch. Not many people can do that. The most important thing I learned form her was quietness. I thought I had that nailed early on, but I was able to take it to a deeper level with her. Not only was it “shut up and sit there,” but it was, “have no specific agenda because you will be disappointed and force the horse.”

Vera taught me about loyalty.

Linda Tellington-Jones blew a hole in my perception of reality with horses. She dismantled all my understanding of horsemanship, and reassembled it from the ground up. Along with the reconstructed horsemanship, she presented a new way to look at interpersonal relationships. She provided me with a new beginning, and a new purpose in life. A change that I’d needed for many years. I’m still amazed at the events that have unfolded in the last two years. And how they have changed my life. Thank you, Linda.

And now to the horses: Thank you!!!




Marksman Millie and Julia G. Scheibel

Brego, for demonstrating how dominance doesn’t work with fearful horses.
Millie, for being the best babysitter on the planet. Also for being true to your breed, a full-blooded Percheron, who really doesn’t like to move out in the ring. You taught me how to ask correctly.
Buster, for showing me what a (Parelli concept) Right Brain Extrovert is really like. And that you were too much for me at that stage of my learning. I wish you a happy life. I adore you.
Holly, for revealing true equine maternal dedication and elegance.
Mystic, for grace, and for showing me the value of eternal vigilance.
Storm, for being who you are. A stallion of uncommon beauty, inside and out.
My babies, Madison and James, for allowing me to shepherd you through the first year of your lives. Nothing can match that experience.
Maira, for being peaceful, beautiful, and accepting of all my flaws. May you show the same kindness to your new “husband.”

Living in the horse world, for however short a time has made me who I am. It is a singular influence on the way I see the immediate world, aside from Buddhism. I might never have gotten to this point, where my life is about to enter a new and exciting phase, without all my teachers.

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Guest Blogger: Drop-dead Gorgeous, Soft-Eyed, Cantering, Jumping Melanie

Guest Blogger: Drop-dead Gorgeous, Soft-Eyed, Cantering, Jumping Melanie


OK, so I know I said the guest blogging thing was going to be yearly. But boyo was it fun and informational. Talk about making new connections. I have decided to publish the posts from everyone who entered the First Annual Guest Blogger Contest and Sweepstakes if they are willing. Drop me a line if you are still willing to share your wit and know-how with all three folks who read enlightened horsemanship (one is my mom, one is me, and I don’t know who that person in Lithuania is, but labas ir ačiū!

This enthusiastic and sweet little piece was written by my friend Melanie Candra, aka Little Miss Muffintop. I’ve known her since 2002, and and am not proud to confess that she gave me a disease called the “Dark Side Plague” by forcing me to lick an anatomically-suggestive swizzle stick) or was it that squashy little plastic pig?) at an Oscar after-party in L.A. Aside from this incident, we have had a great deal of fun together over the years, in spite of the fact that she lives in New York and I live in Virginia. One of Melanie’s passions is horses, and she’s just now arrived to that place where she can indulge herself in “the life.” Join me in wishing her luck in becoming not only a rider but a true horsewoman.

smiles all around

smiles all around

Clickety-click on over to her blog for her somewhat, erm, shall we say, unusual take on sports, entertainment, her riding lessons, and the world in general.

Center And Grow, baby. Center. And. Grow.


Melanie and Caz

I jumped today. For the first time ever, I jumped. And I didn’t fall off and more importantly I didn’t feel like I was going to fall off. I’m sure it wasn’t the prettiest of jumps and it was a very tiny rail but I didn’t hesitate and I didn’t hold my breath and I actually liked it and I totally didn’t worry about falling off.

Today was my first hour-long lesson and the damn thing still felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. Last week’s lesson I had an awful time getting Caz to canter and Nina The Instructor, after only having taught me exactly 4 times, was dead on when she told me that I was over-thinking it. It’s like she knew that I had spent every day the week before obsessing about transitioning to the canter from the walk and it’s like she knew I had scoured the internet for The Secret and it’s like she knew I had practiced the “7 Steps To Getting Your Horse To Canter” in my mind over and over and over.

I told her as much this morning as she untacked her most gorgeous Hanoverian horse Envy and she very kindly smiled. “Today,” I told her, “I’m just going to breathe.” And ok, aside from one very teeny tiny distraction that I could see my toes with my “soft eyes” and I tried not to focus on it but I kinda did cause you’re not supposed to be able to see your toes, the ride today was wonderful. The only thing I kept in my head today was breathe and center and grow and both she and Ross could absolutely see the difference.
Today I forgot all about The 7 Steps To Getting Your Horse To Canter and just cantered. The best part was I could feel those stupid little wrinkles between my eyebrows go away and I was smiling again. And with my smile came my confidence and with my confidence came correct body positioning. So when she asked if I wanted to jump, I said, “Yes, please.” And when I jumped, I asked her if I could do it again. And again. Even as I am sitting here typing this, I’m not obsessing over The Eleventybillion Steps To Getting Your Horse To Jump, I’m just remembering how it felt to jump.

I certainly don’t presume to think I unlocked the Secrets To Great Riding, but I am joyful in the presumption that I think I unlocked the Secret To Great Riding For Me.

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