In the pursuit of Flow it helps to understand that it is not just a one-off experience, but a cycle that takes place in the body and brain. By learning about the phases and triggers within that cycle, we set ourselves up to create flow more frequently in various situations, including with your horse.
PHASE ONE- STRUGGLE
When we witness elite riders excelling in harmony with their horses we are seeing the results of diligent and deliberate struggle, essentially partnered flow. These riders have learned the art of struggling gracefully, a skill that we can all seek to master.
The struggle phase is where we build on our established skill set. This crucial stage requires us to reach further and dig deeper in pursuit of our goals. This time period is what Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, refers to as “deep practice”, or focusing intensely one step at a time to provide a faster route to mastery of new skills. 1
For everyday equestrians, the struggle phase can be illustrated by implementing feedback from taking lessons. Embracing the challenges that arise in the lesson, we free ourselves to appreciate struggle for the value it later imparts. This type of practice is not about being accountable to your trainer. Instead, the importance is accountability to yourself and your horse.
PHASE TWO- RELEASE
Letting go is part of Flow. The idea is to unplug and let the brain do its’ thing. Release is the stage of the cycle when the subconscious filters, sorts and connects information and skills to be easily accessed and implemented.
Not only is release integral to achieving peak performance in the flow cycle but it can make our day-to-day lives more enjoyable. There really isn’t any one specific way that the release phase applies to equestrian sport, because it is relative to the individual and what works best for them. Some find release in cleaning their house top to bottom, hiking, or spending time in a social setting. If you are not yet sure what works for you, seek experiences opposite to your usual routine that enrich your life.
The release phase allows us to take a step outside the realm of horse, come back later with a fresh perspective, ready to step into flow.
1 Coyle, D. (2010). The talent code: Greatness isn't born, it's grown. Random House.