By Sally Swift
Illustrated. 264 pp. Trafalgar Square. $28.95
For decades, horsewoman Sally Swift has been preaching the virtues of body awareness training to riders of all disciplines, from barrel racers to eventers. Her first book, Centered Riding, was published in 1985 and developed somewhat of a cult following before working its way into the mainstream and becoming a classic horsemanship book. (Check out the Centered Riding 1 DVD ) Centered Riding 2: Further Exploration was published in 2002, and is designed to complement Ms. Swift's first book, not replace it.
This second volume emphasizes the effects of centered riding on the horse, and glosses over the Four Basics of Centered Riding: centering, breathing, soft eyes and building blocks. Although these "basics" have become so accepted that they are an automatic part of a quality riding education, they are often mis-taught. For instance, a riding instructor that barks "Breathe!" to their student, is probably hoping that their pupil will magically relax use one of Ms. Swift's Four Basics, correct breathing. Those of use with such an instructor will be doing ourselves a great service by reading this book.
Centered Riding 2 is nicely divided into nineteen chapters, with titles like "Learning Balance and Relaxation", "Feel the Alternating Sides of the Horse's Body", and "The Joyful Canter". Each chapter contains unmounted and mounted activities that will help riders achieve the essentials of the chapter's content.
Although the writing in Centered Riding 2 is very concise, clear and somewhat inspirational, Centered Riding 2 is much more of a workbook that a "reading book". Many of the concepts outlined in Centered Riding 2 are easily grasped in theory, but can only be fully understood when they are attempted in "real life".
The concepts in Centered Riding 2 are generally simple and easy to grasp intellectually. However, since Centered Riding is based on allowing the body's natural balance and grace overcome the mind's rigid image of what the body should be doing, the exercises prescribed in the book are often surprisingly (or laughably, or frustratingly) difficult to complete the first time around. Lots of practice is required to master them, as well as lots of patience and organization, especially if you are attempting to learn these techniques without the help of an instructor.
Though the training exercises in Centered Riding 2 can be practiced alone, a training partner will be very helpful in the learning process. This is both for safety's sake as well due to the possibility that a big gap will develop between what riders will see in their mind's eye while practicing these techniques and what their bodies will actually be doing.
By reading carefully through the book, riders can learn how to improve skills such as posting the trot, achieving a balanced canter, staying with the motion of their horse's jump and helping their horse to move forward with straightness and balance at all gaits. This makes it easy to see why Centered Riding helped Sally Swift to become an iconic figure in the world of horsemanship. Centered Riding 2 cements her prominence.