How to Get into “The Zone”
by Daniel Stewart
Previously we identified the illusive competitive edge called “the zone.” This month we discuss how to find it. In addition to the 8 characteristics discussed in April, there’s one more that is often considered the most important of all 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, 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 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 don’t act up!) 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 makes on each stride, or the sound of your horse’s breathing.
- Trust Training – Avoid over-thinking 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, remember to go with the flow to get into the zone!
Published May 2013 Issue
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.