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Mon, 2013-03-04 15:08

Daniel Stewart Question and Tip of the Month

Authored By: Daniel Stewart

Question of the Month

Rene asks "My trainer keeps telling me to get into the zone.  I've heard of this in other sports, but can it happen in riding, and if so, how do I do it?" 
All athletes, including riders (yes we are athletes!) can get into the zone. It's the sensation of being able to ride your best in an effortless and automatic way. You don't have to work, think, or try hard because everything just seems to fall into place. This sensation is called your Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning - IZOF for short - and is what allows you to ride and/or compete at your peak.  

There are numerous feelings that characterize the zone

1) Total Concentration - You're completely immersed in your ride, focused on the task at hand, and feel total freedom from distractions.

2) Feel up to the Challenge - You  feel that you're being challenged, but at the same time, you feel that you have the skills needed to meet that challenge.

3) Effortless Action - You feel like you're one with your horse and your actions.  You don't have to work hard at riding because it's become effortless.

4) Heightened Senses - In addition to your 5 senses; your sense of rhythm, body awareness, timing, and of doing what's right all become more clear and intense.

5) Goal Focused - You know how well you're doing and know exactly what you must do to continue riding in this way. 

6) Lack of Self-Consciousness - You find yourself in a wonderful place free of worries, doubt, expectations, obligations, pressure and/or fear. 

7) Time Distortion - You feel as if you have an endless amount of time to perform any action, even though it may really happen in the blink of an eye. 

8) The Autotelic Experience - Your ride becomes so enjoyable that you no longer worry about winning or losing - the ride itself is all the reward you need.

For a few suggestions on how to get into the zone, see the Tip of the Month below and remember, when it comes to the zone...

Don't try and get into it...

Let it get into you!


Tip of the Month

Feel the Flow to Find Your Zone
In addition to the many characteristics listed above, there's one more that is often considered the most important of all - because without it - you'll have a hard time feeling the others. This last characteristic is called the "state of flow."  

You can probably recall a time when your ride felt effortless and automatic. You were totally immersed in it and everything just seemed to flow. You can probably also recall a time when you felt just the opposite - no matter what did your ride felt clumsy and just seemed to fall apart. The difference between these two rides is that you felt flow in the first but not in the second.  When you develop the sensation of flow, you step into the zone.  No flow, however, and no zone.

All athletes can get into the zone but riders face a challenge that's unique to our sport; the unpredictable nature of horses can often rob us of our state of flow. Your horse trips a bit, refuses a fence, pulls a rail, chips in, misses a change, spooks, or lets out a happy buck (this never bothers other athletes because skis or tennis racquets never refuse or spook!) The more these unexpected events happen, the greater chance they have of interrupting your flow.

When your horse interrupts your flow, here are some ways to get it back:

  • Cadence Training - Create the sensation of flow by rhythmically whispering a cadence like "one, two, one, two" or "Ho, Hum, Ho, Hum."
  • Rhythm Training - Focus on a rhythmical sound like the noise your saddle make on each stride or the sound of your horse's breathing.
  • Trust Training - Avoid overthinking by reminding yourself that your training has prepared you well for the demands of your ride.
  • Stop Thinking - Analyze leads to paralyze which robs you of flow. Don't think hard; relax and think soft (often called riding with "soft eyes")
  • Focus on present - Flow only occurs in the present so thinking of the past (like a spook or a chip) will only take your flow away from you.

When it comes to riding at your peak, always remember to...

Go with the flow to get into the zone!

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