Part of the reason I’m heavily involved in a lesson program (outside of the fact that I like to be part of a big barn family) is that my trainers encourage me to spend time outside of the arena continuing my riding education. Sometimes that’s by watching videos or auditing clinics, other times they recommend books like Centered Riding by Sally Swift. I’m very much a visual learner, but while I have trouble really buckling down to read text, I enjoyed Centered Riding because it’s littered with informative (and often humorous) drawings. Here’s a quick look the very basics of Centered Riding!
The Four Basics of Centered Riding
1. Eyes → When you’re acutely focused on something (say, looking down at your horse), you have hard eyes. When you allow yourself to have soft eyes (AKA look up and use your peripherals), it’s easier to feel and therefore easier to ride better.
2. Breathing → Instead of trying to breathe up and out with your ribs, it’s more constructive to breathe down with your diaphragm. Not breathing builds tension, which will impact how your horse reacts to your cues.
3. Centering → Most people are top heavy. Centering means to lower your center of gravity between your navel and your pubic arch, where the spine is in the very center of the body. The top doesn’t matter, it’s the center that supports you!
4. Building Blocks → Your spine should be stacked like blocks and your center should always be over your feet.
(5. Super Cute Horse → See left. 🙂 )
“Retire to your center and be quiet. Let your breathing become organized. Breathe to your center.”
A lot of Centered Riding focuses on the difficulty of balancing strength and relaxation. Swift puts emphasis on riding using the right brain (the side that’s intuitive and deals with the big picture instead of individual parts) instead of the left brain (the side that’s rational and analytical)—not because they aren’t equally important, but because generally we spend more time exercising the left side than the right, so it’s important to put a greater focus on intuition than logic while in the saddle.
“A supple horse is one who can lengthen and compress his frame as well as bend his body laterally without losing his balance.”
My favorite picture from Centered Riding, an image that describes the idea of “inside leg to outside rein”:
While it definitely took me a long time to make my way through Centered Riding (man, I’m so bad at getting through dense text), it was worth the read (okay, FINE, it was a skim in some parts 😛 ). I would definitely recommend it to anyone that loves to read about the theory behind horseback riding… or, if you’re like me and have a tough time with text, here’s a playlist of Centered Riding related videos that covers some (but not all) of the book’s material: