Legendary Founder of Centered Riding Leaves Horse World in Mourning

Sally Swift photo courtesy Trafalgar Square
Photo Courtesy Trafalgar Square

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 have had combined 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.

In August of 2006, Sally Swift was inducted into the United States Dressage Federation’s Hall of Fame.  In June of 2008, she was presented with the seventh annual Equine Industry Vision Award by Pfizer Animal Health and American Horse Publications, an award which recognizes innovation, ingenuity and service across the entire equine market.

At the age of 7, Sally was diagnosed with scoliosis, lateral curvature of the spine.  She worked for many years with Mabel Ellsworth Todd, author of “The Thinking Body” who believed that you could control parts of your body with your mind when you couldn’t direct them with physical movement.  Sally used concepts of her work with Mabel Todd to develop the Four Basics of Centered Riding.

Sally was homeschooled until 7th grade and then attended Milton Academy in Milton Massachusetts for her 7th through 12th grade education.  She graduated from Cornell University in 1947 with a B.S. in agriculture.  She worked for 21 years at the Holstein Association of America located in Brattleboro, Vermont, retiring in 1975. 

Sally Swift photo courtesy Trafalgar Square
Photo Courtesy Trafalgar Square

Upon her retirement from the Holstein Association in, Sally began teaching her friends at the rate of $10 per lesson and $50 per day for a clinic.  She never advertised – her teachings spread by word of mouth.  Before long, she was travelling up and down the East coast to teach.  In the early 1980s, when Sally was in her early seventies, she began teaching in other locations in the U.S., Canada and eventually to Europe.  In 1988, at the age of 75, she went to Australia to work alongside Richard Weis, who was her first apprentice.  Sally continued to be very active in Centered Riding until her recent illness.

During the days of her illness, Sally was surrounded by her friends and Centered Riding family who loved her.  She was closely attended to by her long-time friend, Lucile Bump, also of Brattleboro, her devoted friend, Munson Hicks, her caregivers, and her special friend Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.    Sally was well-loved by many, many people.  Despite her fame, breadth of knowledge and accomplishments, she greeted all who journeyed down her path with warmth and humbleness.

Plans for a memorial service in honor of Sally Swift are underway.  In lieu of flowers, donations in Sally’s memory can be made to Centered Riding, Inc. P.O. Box 157, Perkiomenville, PA, 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, New York, NY 1001

The world was made a better place by Sally Swift, and the horse world and all who came to love her deeply mourn her passing.


  1. Sally Swift’s book Centered Riding saved my riding. I forever owe my joy from riding to her. She will not be forgotten.

  2. Sally Swift was one of my favorite horse women. I admired her as I had scoliosis also. Her book helped my riding tremondously.

  3. Reading Sally Swift’s books profoundly changed (for the better!!) my experience as a rider. What an amazing woman!

  4. I didn’t start riding until I was 30. My riding instructor gave me an excerpt from the book, Centered Riding, to help me to relax and gain confidence. I bought the book and have read it again and again. Ms. Swift’s illustrations are priceless aids to help anyone with balance and control. Since then, my son has taken up riding and I insisted he read both books. Thank You, Sally Swift for an invaluable resource!


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