Embracing The Challenge of Equestrian Sport
There is nothing easy about what we do! Maybe that's part of why we love it so much. As equestrians, we tend to be more accepting of challenge and discomfort than the general population. We’re no strangers to braving the elements, rising at the crack of dawn, or sacrificing our free time in pursuit of our goals. All of this, we do for our love of the horse.
What are we supposed to do when we hit a wall and things seem more challenging than what we feel capable of handling?
We know that setting goals is key to improving and that part of reaching those goals is have a compelling “Deep Why.” When feeling overfaced in the pursuit of overcoming the next big hurdle, consider the benefits of experiencing and overcoming challenge long term.
Challenge resets our sense of normal, building confidence in our established capabilities and illuminating points for improvement. To put this into equestrian terms, this is how we go from novice to intermediate to advanced. This is how “the masters” became Masters.
Great performers, be they riders, musicians, or professional athletes of any sport understand that mastery is a result of crushing adversity. So often, we fall victim to the lure of practicing what comes easy to us. This is our comfort zone, and it is a trap.
Adventure educator Tom Senninger1 is credited with this theory:
when pursuing new skills or knowledge, we encounter three different mental zones.
The first zone is our comfort zone where we face no new challenges and fall back on our established skills and knowledge.
The second zone is the learning zone, where arousal and curiosity are piqued. This zone is relatively small by comparison, requiring just enough stretch beyond our comfort zone to establish growth and learning, but without crossing the line into the panic zone.
The panic zone is where arousal becomes anxiety, and learning stops.
When our habits and skills are challenged, improvement is waiting just beyond what is comfortable. However, go too far beyond our stretch zone and panic sets in. This theory of learning overlaps nicely with that of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow State. Understanding that growth and improvement result from embracing difficulty, gives us the power to lean in and become comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. Seeking and finding a sense of ease within our stretch or learning zone, opens the door to finding Flow.
Learning to struggle gracefully empowers us to understand our own comfort boundaries and coach ourselves through challenges towards great improvement.
1 “The Learning Zone Model.” ThemPra Social Pedagogy, www.thempra.org.uk/social-pedagogy/key-concepts-in-social-pedagogy/the-learning-zone-model/.